Bad memories of Ark. despite win
By Michael Casagrande
Special to the Ledger-Enquirer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It might be hard to fathom, considering Alabama beat Arkansas by four touchdowns last season, but today’s visit to Fayetteville brings strong undertones of redemption for a few stars.
The Dont’a Hightower angle is obvious. His season was cut short by the devastating knee injury he suffered in the first half of the 35-7 win in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
But Mark Ingram’s frustrating afternoon lasted much longer than the time it takes to get cut blocked. There certainly was no Heisman Trophy buzz coming out of the muggy late September afternoon affair.
Still three weeks before he burst onto the hype train with a record-setting night against South Carolina, Ingram ran for just 50 yards on 17 carries as the Razorbacks made a concerted effort to eliminate his effectiveness.
Keeping extra linebackers in the box to key on plugging holes led to a frustrating afternoon and Ingram’s second-lowest rushing total outside of the Auburn win on the last weekend of the regular season.
“They’re playing faster on that side of the ball,” Ingram said. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge for us. But we’re going to be ready for them, whether they want to stack the box, we’re going to be able to pass the ball. Whatever.”
With Ingram bottled up, the passing game took off against the Razorbacks. Greg McElroy enjoyed the biggest game of his career to that point by throwing for 291 yards on 17-of-24 passing with three touchdowns.
The Razorbacks’ defense has improved significantly since last season’s unit came up short in key spots. The group that held the eventual-Heisman Trophy winner to a below-average afternoon finished the season ranked ninth against the run in the SEC and 73rd nationally. Seven Arkansas defensive linemen have starting experience entering the year, and their rankings have taken a positive turn with a veteran front.
Arkansas now ranks fifth in the conference and 37th in the Football Bowl Subdivision heading into its stiffest test of the year. The healthy Ingram has a more than qualified backup in Trent Richardson, who showed his first signs of a special career to come against Arkansas in 2009.
His 52-yard touchdown run not only broke a scoreless tie in the second quarter, it became a fixture on any Crimson Tide highlight reel from the season. Juking, cutting and running through five would-be tacklers, Richardson eventually found daylight on the sideline after leaving a host of arm-tacklers on the turf.
Razorbacks defensive end Jake Bequette certainly remembered the dynamics of stopping Ingram but allowing Richardson’s breakout performance.
“Yeah, we take a lot of pride in that,” he said at SEC Media Days in July. “Fortunately, we were able to stop Ingram for most of the game, I do remember we gave up a big run to (Trent) Richardson, which was unfortunate. When you have two great running backs, sometimes one gets loose. But he was the Heisman Trophy winner, and his talent speaks for itself.”