A few thoughts from the early aftermath of the Tide's 24-20 win over Arkansas:
- On Friday afternoon I wrote that the form in which we won did not matter so long as we won, and that should be the general perspective today. Undoubtedly, it was not a pretty victory in any way. We trailed for 57 minutes, the defensive nightmares came true, the offense struggled early in a shootout, and we had several costly turnovers, but all of that notwithstanding it got the job done and we made the key plays when we absolutely had to make them. We still have to get through LSU in Baton Rouge, but by staking an early win in Fayetteville we are clearly in the driver's seat to win the SEC West.
- Make whatever criticism of Alabama you will, and there are plenty of valid ones to be made, but give the Tide credit for its perseverance. With our backs against the wall late we didn't flinch on either side of the ball, ending the defensive busts and working like an unstoppable machine on offense. If there was ever a game you could point to in which you could say that the team took on the personality of the head coach, it would probably be this one. Much like the 2009 Iron Bowl, the fourth quarter performance yesterday afternoon was the epitome of what Nick Saban preaches.
- Defensively, it's hard to put a positive spin on what we did yesterday afternoon. They key positive, of course, was timely turnovers, but all three of those came on very poor throws by Mallett. Aside from those turnovers, though, we allowed well over 400 yards of offense, almost 10 yards per passing attempt, and 300+ yards to Ryan Mallett. The run defense was once again very suspect, not posting a single tackle for loss on sixteen carries by Arkansas tailbacks, and allowing those struggling backs to average 4.5 yards per carry. And in terms of pressure, there was almost none on Mallett. We had one sack on 40 passing attempts -- the second sack credited to Upshaw was a sack in name only, it was a QB scramble where we stopped Mallett about one-half of a yard short of the line of scrimmage -- and combined we hit Mallett all of about four times throughout the game. Mixed with blown defensive assignments galore, that was easily the worst defensive performance since the Sugar Bowl against Utah, and arguably since the 2007 season.
- We improved defensively in the second half when the busted assignments came to an end, but in all honesty the biggest difference late was just a complete collapse by the Arkansas offense. After a solid, clock-grinding drive yielded three points and gave them a 20-7 lead, Arkansas simply imploded. The following possession they gained 18 yards before ending the drive with a drop by Greg Childs and a dumb penalty by Joe Adams (one that off-set a dumb Alabama penalty). From there, on the final two drives of the game, Mallett made two bad throws on balls that should have never been throw. He went for broke on a deep post route on third and long, but missed badly high and behind the receiver, and he followed that up on the final drive -- with the Hogs at midfield, plenty of time, and two timeouts -- by lobbing a throwaway that should have been thrown in the tenth row. Dre Kirkpatrick slid underneath it for a nifty interception, and that was all she wrote for the Hogs. Admittedly our defense stopped destroying themselves with blown coverages, but by the same token Arkansas beat themselves down the stretch offensively with key drops, dumb penalties, and terrible throws.
- Ryan Mallett fell apart late, and the key to that may have been the chest-blow delivered by Nick Gentry early in the fourth quarter. After Gentry delivered that blow -- the first decent hit we had on Mallett in 30 passing attempts -- the Texarkana native fell apart. The footwork devolved into something from sandlot football, and bad decisions started to come in bunches. Perhaps that blow had nothing to do with it, but regardless Mallett was a completely different quarterback after we finally got a helmet on him.
- Many complained throughout the game that we were not running the football enough, and while admittedly we were throwing the football quite a bit, I'll defend Jim McElwain here. The most interesting thing about our running game is that, for all of the ability of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, we do somewhat struggle to run the football out of run-heavy formations (the Wildcat notwithstanding). When we tried two tight ends yesterday and Arkansas knew the run was coming, we had very little success, but when we spread the field and then ran it at them, we could run the football at will. Oddly enough, I think, we are a team that passes to set up the run.