TUSCALOOSA — If anyone associated with the Alabama football team doubted Darren McFadden’s ability before Saturday, the Arkansas running back made believers of them during the Crimson Tide’s 41-38 victory.
McFadden rushed for 195 yards and two touchdowns Saturday, almost single-handedly bringing the Razorbacks back from a 31-10 third-quarter deficit to take a 38-31 lead before Alabama awoke and scored the game’s final 10 points.
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The 6-foot-2, 215-pound junior was the Heisman Trophy runner-up last season, and may have cemented his case for the award with his performance against the Crimson Tide.
"Darren McFadden, once the kid gets going and gets in his groove, he’s something hard to stop," Alabama defensive end Wallace Gilberry said. "He has my Heisman vote and he’s definitely the best back in the nation. He does great things out there. He has great vision and he took control of the game."
McFadden’s backfield mate Felix Jones didn’t have a bad showing, either, rushing for 96 yards on 16 carries. All told, the Razorbacks ground out 301 yards rushing, part of a 450-yard offensive effort.
The Tide will face a pair of fine runners again this week in Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno and Thomas Brown, who have combined for 407 yards and four touchdowns in three games this season.
Alabama cornerback Simeon Castille figures he’s already seen the best backs he’s going to see this year, though.
"It really doesn’t get much better than what we saw (against Arkansas)," Castille said. "I’m not knocking Georgia’s running backs, I know they have one guy that runs the ball as hard as anybody I’ve seen in the SEC. We’re going to have to prepare for them just as hard as we did this week, if not harder."
Alabama kicker Leigh Tiffin didn’t get the chance to make a game-winning field goal against Arkansas on Saturday night, but he may have gone a long way toward getting past his nightmarish performance against the Razorbacks in 2006.
Tiffin missed three field goals and an extra point against the Hogs last year, perhaps the biggest reason Arkansas was able to escape with a 24-23 double-overtime win. He made four extra points and two field goals this time around, none bigger than a 42-yard field goal that cut Arkansas’ lead to 38-34 with 4:20 to play.
"I just tried not to doubt myself at all," Tiffin said. "I just believed in my ability to do what they obviously think I can do. I told myself, ‘I’m not going to look at the scoreboard. I don’t care what time of the game it is. I don't care what the score is.’ I’m going to try to make the kick no matter what, so why put any extra pressure on myself?
"I just think it was a great day to kind of put (last year) behind me. Hopefully, everybody else will put that in the past."
For the season, Tiffin is 6-for-11 on field goals, and 14-for-14 on extra points.
The fact that Tiffin even was on the field for that 42-yarder led to a golden second-guess opportunity on Saban’s strategy. The Crimson Tide kicked rather than going for a first down and an eventual tying touchdown with the Crimson Tide facing fourth-and-5 from the Arkansas 25 and trailing 38-31 with 4:20 to play.
After Tiffin’s field goal, Alabama’s defense forced an Arkansas punt little more than two minutes later, setting the stage for the Crimson Tide’s game-winning touchdown drive. But to Saban, the decision to kick was a no-brainer.
"Well, we still would have had to stop them if we would have went for it on fourth down and didn’t make it," Saban said. "We still would have to stop them to get the ball back and we’d still be out there playing. There was almost five minutes left to go in the game, we had two timeouts left, which is a pretty significant amount of time."
The Crimson Tide allowed one first down on Arkansas’ ensuing possession, but got the ball back with 2:13 to play. Alabama cornerback Simeon Castille appreciated his coach showing faith in his defense.
"I think (Saban) really did have confidence in us, that we could get that last stop," Castille said. "We always practice and simulate ‘get-the-ball-back’ situations. It paid off tonight."