TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Greg McElroy finally reached a breaking point Friday night.
All the talk of Arkansas’ dynamite offense and big-play potential led him to an impassioned speech on the eve of the Southeastern Conference opener.
“I stood up at the end of the meeting last night when we were watching film, and I said I’m sick and tired of hearing about how Arkansas has such an explosive offense,” he said. “We can be those guys too.”
By Saturday afternoon, only one dangerous offense showed up in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
McElroy proved himself right with a handful of big plays that pushed the third-ranked Tide to a 35-7 beating of the Razorbacks on another muggy and soggy Tuscaloosa afternoon. Twice Alabama scored on the first play of a drive, and its five touchdown plays accounted for 70 percent of its total 425 yards.
Meanwhile, the Tide defense limited the highly publicized Razorback offense in the wake of suffering what could be a major blow to its linebacking corps. Sophomore Dont’a Hightower was carted off with what appeared to be a serious knee injury in the first quarter.
That didn’t stop Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC) from throwing unconventional looks at quarterback Ryan Mallett. It led to an uncharacteristically poor 12-for-35 passing day for the Razorbacks quarterback who netted just 160 yards a week after breaking school records against Georgia.
“They were trying to slide the protections all the time on our pressures,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “I think some of the best pressure we got were edge pressures. We hit them a couple of times on boots. We actually had a cross done in the middle that we got some pretty good pressure on a couple of times, but played zone with it.”
Cornerback Javier Arenas got two of Alabama’s three first-half sacks coming from the edge while a host of other defenders combined for eight quarterback pressures.
Still, Mallett didn’t think the pressure affected his performance.
“It didn’t really at all,” he said. “They might have flushed me out of the pocket a couple of times, but that’s it.”
Regardless, it was McElroy who turned in more big plays than the quarterback who entered with all the hype.
Tide freshman running back Trent Richardson awoke Alabama from an offensive slumber early in the second quarter when he shed four tackles before breaking free in front of the Alabama sideline for a 52-yard rushing touchdown.
Then, after a defensive stop and an 18-yard Arenas punt return gave Alabama the ball at midfield, it dusted off the Wildcat offense. Mark Ingram took the shotgun snap and handed off to receiver Terry Grant who came in motion. Grant then flipped it back to McElroy who easily spotted a wide-open Julio Jones streaking towards the goal line.
An underthrown pass was all that kept Jones from walking into the end zone in his first action since bruising his knee in the first quarter of the Florida International win two weeks earlier. The 50-yard connection broke his streak of 12 games without a touchdown dating back to the Georgia game last season.
Saban said that play was in the game plan for the first half, so when Alabama got the ball at the 50, the call was an easy one.
“If you watch TV, you’ve probably seen it before,” Saban said. “I think Miami scored a couple of touchdowns on that last year. Sweep, toss it back to the quarterback and throw it. That was a play that we were going to run in the first half no matter what and the situation at midfield to take a shot was a good time to do it, and (offensive coordinator Jim McElwain) did a great job of calling it.”
A shootout appeared possible early in the second half when Arkansas (1-2) scored its only touchdown on a short five-yard drive capped by an 18-yard Mallett-to-Greg Childs pass. Saban said the secondary played two separate coverages, leading to confusion and a relatively easy pass and catch.
McElroy wasted no time in responding with an 80-yard touchdown pass to Marquis Maze that seemed to break Arkansas’ spirit.
Ingram, who struggled for 51 rushing yards on 17 attempts, finished off the scoring with a 14-yard touchdown pass from McElroy and a 2-yard run.
But afterwards, the spotlight remained on the quarterback who stood up for his playmakers the night before.
“I always knew Greg was going to be a good quarterback,” Maze said. “He’s probably going to be one of the best to ever play (at Alabama).”