TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Rashad Johnson was talking specifically about Arkansas’ game-winning touchdown against Alabama last year, but he might have been talking about any number of plays in the Crimson Tide’s double-overtime loss to the Razorbacks last September.
"It’s something that you think about," Johnson said. "but there were different things we could have done in the game where it might not have even come down to that situation."
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Arkansas tight end Ben Cleveland out-jumped Johnson, then Alabama’s nickel back, and cornerback Ramzee Robinson for what proved to be the game-winning score in a 24-23 Razorbacks victory in Fayetteville, Ark. That was just one of numerous breakdowns that cost the Crimson Tide its status as an unbeaten, ranked team, and perhaps sent the team careening toward a 6-7 finish to the 2006 season.
Most famously, then-freshman Leigh Tiffin missed three field goals and an extra point, including one of each in overtime. One missed field goal would have given the Crimson Tide the victory in overtime, while another would have probably clinched the game at the end of regulation.
The Crimson Tide dominated the game statistically, and led almost throughout. But Arkansas ran a fumble back for a touchdown late in the third quarter, shifting momentum back to the home-standing Razorbacks.
"That’s been in the back of my mind for a while," Alabama center Antoine Caldwell said. "I remember last year, how difficult that game was when we played down there and lost in overtime.
"You never really thought about it, but that kind of was the turning point in our season. It did seem like we went downhill from that game."
Alabama lost seven of its final nine games of last season, including the heartbreaker to Arkansas. While the Razorbacks went on to finish 10-4 and win the Southeastern Conference West Division, stumbled to a losing record, and saw its coach fired at the end of the season.
Alabama began the process of putting losses like the one to Arkansas behind it when it hired Nick Saban as head coach in January. But a victory for the Crimson Tide (2-0, 1-0 SEC) over the 16th-ranked Razorbacks (1-0, 0-0) today at Bryant-Denny Stadium might truly allow the team to move on.
To do so, Alabama must find a way to slow down the Hogs’ two-headed running back monster consisting of juniors Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. Each rushed for better than 1,000 yards a year ago, and both also eclipsed the 100-yard mark in the Razorbacks’ season-opening win over Troy two weeks ago.
"We have to stop those two guys," Alabama cornerback Simeon Castille said. "Really it starts with them and controlling their running game. I think the key will be stopping the run and making them throw the ball to beat us.
"It’s definitely going to be a challenge. Last year when we played them they weren’t doing all the stuff that they are doing now. It’s going to be a totally different ball game."
Alabama has featured a fine running game itself this season, with redshirt freshman Terry Grant leading the way. He has rushed for an SEC-best 307 yards and five touchdowns in wins over Western Carolina and Vanderbilt this season, earning SEC Freshman of the Week honors for both games.
The Crimson Tide passing game, however, has not been as good as hoped. Junior quarterback John Parker Wilson connected on only 50 percent of his passes against Vanderbilt, and is yet to throw a touchdown pass this year.
"I think the big thing for John Parker right now is to be patient, focus on the moment, go through the process of what he needs to do to be successful, not get caught up in expectations or anything like that, not put unbelievable pressure on himself," Saban said. "He just needs to do his job, execute his position. He’s got good enough players around him where when he plays well, we can be a very good passing team and he can be an outstanding quarterback for us."
Alabama is a slight favorite for today’s game, which seems fitting in a series in which the home team has won seven of the last nine. Arkansas will likely play without Cleveland (neck injury) and star receiver Marcus Monk (knee), while Alabama is healthy at most of its key positions.
The game is almost always a close one, and Johnson and his teammates will try to erase the bad memories from a year ago. Not that they need any extra motivation against a ranked SEC opponent.
"I wouldn’t say revenge," Johnson said. "It doesn’t go that deep. But as far as going out and playing well and trying to win the game, we’re definitely going to go out and try to dominate."