Bama rallies from 13 points behind
By Michael Casagrande
Special to the Ledger-Enquirer
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Marcell Dareus was getting a quick halftime tape job when he heard the locker room demeanor was not to his pleasing.
Trailing by 10, Alabama’s star defensive end took a stand and addressed the shell-shocked team.
Apparently, it was heard.
Rallying from its second-biggest deficit in the four-season Nick Saban era (13 points in the third quarter) the top-ranked Crimson Tide took advantage of a few Arkansas turnovers while overcoming a few of its own to escape with a 24-20 win.
“The mood was kind of down, and we were just looking at each other,” Dareus said. “The captains got up, and we just spoke, and we said we have to get after it — no matter what.”
Ultimately, Alabama’s reigning Heisman Trophy winner outdueled the Razorback hopeful. It was Mark Ingram’s 1-yard touchdown run with 3:18 to play that gave Alabama its first and only lead. The plunge was set up by the first of Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett’s two costly interceptions (he had three total) that could have cost the Hogs the SEC West title and his shot at the stiff-arming trophy Ingram brought home last December.
In his second game back from a preseason knee injury, Ingram ran 24 times for 157 yards as the Tide turned to its horses when the outlook was bleak.
Playing in front of a school record crowd of 76,808, Arkansas (3-1, 1-1 SEC) had a perfect storm brewing in the third quarter. Tide defensive back Dre Kirkpatrick said the crowd was definitely affecting the inexperienced unit, and mental breakdowns resulted.
Leading 17-7 in the third quarter and driving inside the Alabama red zone, Arkansas had the Tide teetering on the verge of blowing its 28-game regular-season winning streak. But a Mark Barron sack threw a wrench in the works, and Arkansas had to settle for a field goal and a 20-7 lead with 5:07 left in the third quarter.
It then became Ingram/Richardson time.
Alabama’s star running back duo touched the ball on six of the next eight plays, capped by a 20-yard Richardson touchdown catch. The sophomore second option ran for 87 yards on eight attempts and caught two passes for 25 yards.
Following an Arkansas punt, the two played big roles in the 16-play march that ended in a field goal and left a 3-point deficit.
Again, the burden was handed to another group: the young defensive backfield.
Burned most of the first half, the unit recovered to grab two huge interceptions in the closing minutes. Robert Lester’s second of the afternoon set up Ingram’s winning touchdown on a play Mallett, who completed 25-of-38 passes for 357 yards, should have never made.
Facing a third-and-11, the 6-foot-7 passer had his eyes read by the Tide safety, who stepped in front of the pass across the middle, snatched it and ran it back to the Hogs’ 12. It was the second of Mallett’s three interceptions and easily the most costly.
Kirkpatrick’s takeaway on Arkansas’ final gasp effectively sealed it, and the Tide (4-0, 1-0 SEC) escaped in a win reminiscent of the 14-point comeback needed to slip out of Auburn victorious last November.
And just like after the Iron Bowl escape, Tide coach Nick Saban said the mental edge was missing in the first half. Basic mistakes, such as a blown assignment by an outside linebacker during the Hogs’ touchdown on the game’s second play, were completely unacceptable.
“And I really don’t want the players to put that behind them,” he said. “I want them to remember what it’s like not to play the way you’re capable of playing and not playing with the intensity you should have and the focus you should have.”
Mallett had all kinds of time to pick apart the Alabama defense in the first two quarters, so taking that away became the mission in the final two. After rolling up 301 total yards in the first half, Arkansas managed just 115 in the second to finish with the same total as the Tide’s 421.
“We were much more aggressive,” Saban said. “We were so worried about making mistakes in the first half. We played plain, vanilla. The best thing they do comes when you rush four guys and try to cover with seven. I mean, the guy will eat you alive. You’ve got to mess with him and get him out of rhythm.”
Alabama just used a little more balance to reach that point. Rushing accounted for 227 yards (54 percent) while McElroy’s arm picked up the other 46 percent (194 yards). Arkansas got 85 percent of its production through the air.
Another top-10 showdown is next, with No. 9 Florida coming to Bryant-Denny Stadium for a rematch of the past two SEC championship games.