Alabama's defense held Bobby Petrino's normally high-powered Arkansas offense to 209 yards Saturday, including just 17 on the ground. While that's indisputably impressive, it's not exactly surprising. Alabama's defense was widely considered the nation's best entering the season, and the Tide have done nothing so far to suggest that reputation was off base. But for all of Arkansas' playmakers, it was Alabama that scored four touchdowns of at least 25 yards Saturday. The Tide did so in every conceivable fashion: on a fake field goal, where quarterback AJ McCarron threw a 37-yard score to tight end Michael Williams; on a 25-yard interception return, where cornerback DeQuan Menize caught a deflection off of ... himself; on a winding, electrifying 83-yard Marquis Maze punt return; and on the aforementioned 61-yard Richardson run. "Everyone was talking about Arkansas' receivers and how they make big plays," said Maze. "It made us extra hungry. I think we make big plays, too."
There was one more surprise for Alabama on Saturday, and it deserves mentioned. The crowd, which sat in near-silence for two uninspiring non-conference games, responded to Saban's week-long request for raucousness. The fans were loud. The noise affected Arkansas. After the game, Saban seemed both grateful and a bit surprised, and went out of his way to thank the fans for their vigor.
Even when No. 3 Alabama was ahead by 24 points in the second half Saturday, it was still knocking Razorbacks backward with lowered shoulder pads. Arkansas got irritated, too, and there were some altercations around the field because Alabama was acting like a bully in its 38-14 rout of the 14th-ranked Razorbacks. "We’re just trying to send a message to the SEC that we’re not messing around," defensive end Jesse Williams said. "We’re more physical, and we’re going to hit you in the mouth on the first play, and it’s going to go on from there."
Alabama 's dominant and destructive 38-14 mugging of Arkansas at Bryant-Denny Stadium simultaneously brought back visions of the Tide's 2009 national championship run while heightening the anticipation for the Nov. 5 showdown with LSU . Alabama scored with trick plays, big plays, on defense and via special teams to post a victory so decisive that Alabama coach Nick Saban tossed around credit like the way his defense tosses around running backs. "This was a great team win, and when I say 'team,' I'm talking about the players, the coaches, the fans and all the people in the organization that contributed to this win," Saban said. "Our fans provided a great atmosphere that affected their offense."
"To intercept and score on defense was probably huge," Saban said. "That was a big turning point in the game from a momentum standpoint. You know, we need to make more plays like that, get more turnovers." As long as Alabama's secondary keeps playing the way it's playing, the Crimson Tide probably won't have many problems turning opponents over this season. Alabama's defensive backs were a problem area during its disappointing 10-3 season in 2010. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was a first-year starter, and Menzie was coming back from a ruptured Achilles' tendon he suffered before transferring to Alabama from Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Community College.
"You saw a little bit of everything from everybody," Kirkpatrick said. "Everybody came out to ball today, and that’s what we needed." Maybe that’s the way the Crimson Tide are going to roll this season. They can mash you with the running game. They can hit you with big plays. They can suffocate you defensively. And don’t sleep on their return game in special teams, either. "Coming into this week, everybody was talking about Arkansas’ receivers and all the big-play guys they had on their team. Our guys make big plays, too," said Maze, who alternated breaking tackles and ankles on his way to the 10th longest return for a touchdown in Alabama history.
Trent Richardson rushed for 126 yards and caught a receiving touchdown as the Alabama Crimson Tide won its SEC opener for the 20th straight season after defeating the Arkansas Razorbacks 38-14. Although some of those 20 wins have been vacated, it’s the longest streak in the FBS, and just two other schools even have double digit win streaks in conference openers – Virginia Tech (15) and Boise State (11). The Florida Gators have the next-longest win streak in SEC openers at seven games (entering their game against the Kentucky Wildcats Saturday night). The Tide improve to 16-5 against AP Top 25 opponents (Arkansas was ranked 14th) since 2008 and 6-1 at home against AP ranked opponents. Overall, Alabama has won 23 of its last 24 home games and five straight over Arkansas.
"Well, we set out to establish that we were going against the best offense in the SEC and a lot of people were labeling us as the best defense in the SEC," Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. "So we wanted to go out and show people what we were capable of with all cylinders turning." The result looked a lot like the Tide’s 2009 national championship defense. Alabama had 10 tackles for loss, two interceptions, six pass breakups and four quarterback hurries. The downside: Linebacker C.J. Mosley sustained an elbow injury, and Saban said he is questionable for next weekend’s game at No. 15 Florida.
The Crimson Tide made the Razorbacks much more one-dimensional than coach Bobby Petrino surely wanted. "Everybody talks about what a great pass offense team they are, and they are," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "But when they're able to run the ball effectively against you, you've really got issues, because now you're off balance all the time. "We played a lot split-safety coverages today, daring them to run the ball, and when they did, other than one trap play where we got trapped and they got the holding call, I thought we did a pretty good job up front of being able to manage their runs. I think that's a real key to being successful against them. "That was still the first goal for the defense: to stop the run. When they create balance in their offense, you've really got problems. When you can stay ahead of them on down and distance and don't let them create that balance, then you've got a better chance to play loose and play football with them, which is what they play a lot all the time. You can match up and try to have a chance to cover them."
Hightower's tackle of Johnson late in the third quarter -- after Arkansas had pulled within 31-14 and forced a Tide punt -- pretty well summed up a frustrating offensive afternoon for the Razorbacks. "We didn't get [Hightower] blocked," Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino said. "Of course, he's a great player. He made a great play on their part. We didn't get it done on our part." The Razorbacks really didn't get it done in the running game. Alabama held Arkansas to 17 rushing yards on 19 attempts -- 0.9 yards per carry.
The defense was dominant against the run, holding its opponent to less net rushing yards than they had carries for the second straight week. "We just tried to stick to our goal," defensive lineman Jesse Williams said. "We shut down the run, made them one dimensional. We have great defensive backs back there and they know how to shut them down, so everything went well today." When Arkansas was forced to go to the air in hopes of sustaining drives, the Alabama secondary kept the Razorbacks from making big plays. "It was just being in the right position," cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. "It’s nothing special that I did, I was just in the right position. Coach put me in the right position, I just made the play."