Well, it wasn't necessarily pretty, but we'll take it.
Alabama withstood some body blows from a feisty bunch of Arkansas Razorbacks defensive linemen, eventually wearing them down sufficiently enough to take home a 27-14 victory. The game provided reasons for concern but on some level should offer more hope for the Tide's chances. For a half, the offense was objectionable enough to warrant an NC-17 rating in mainstream theaters, yet this insane defense never came close to wilting. Offenses will have bad days and tend to be somewhat inconsistent in nature; truly elite defenses do not, and that appears to be what we have here.
In the second quarter, Reggie Ragland hit the turf holding his shoulder, causing Tide fans everywhere to collectively hold their breath. As the physical, spiritual, and tactical leader of the unit that will ultimately decide the Tide's fate this season, Ragland is one guy that Alabama flat-out can't afford to lose. Fortunately he returned to the game in fine fashion. Reggie was everywhere in this one, pounding on the Arkansas backs time after time. Of course, some of that credit has to go to the Alabama DL who manhandled the biggest offensive line in the SEC all night, eating up those Hogs so that Ragland and his band of ill-willed crew of LBs could do their thing. This front seven held another opponent under two yards a carry on the ground while also getting plenty of pressure on QB Brandon Allen, who managed to finish the game despite taking several big shots.
This defensive secondary continues to grow up before our eyes as well, allowing this defense to at least begin to remind fans of the transcendent 2011 unit. Teams are continuing to go after Marlon Humphrey outside, understandable since senior Cyrus Jones is the alternative. Humphrey is rounding into his own, however, and is up to the task more often than not. Minkah Fitzpatrick was effective in the star position again, and Eddie Jackson came up with a huge pick in the second half that effectively sealed the game. In the end, the box score showed 220 total yards for the Hogs, with 54 of those coming on their last offensive play, a 54-yard TD in garbage time. Before that play, Arkansas was sitting under three yards a play despite getting little help for much of the game from the offense. Simply suffocating.
Offensively, it was a tale of two halves. Give the Arkansas defensive line some credit. Those Hogs are big, mean, and nasty, and they took it to the Alabama OL all night. The Tide never did get any sort of consistent run game going, and QB Jake Coker was under significantly more pressure than he has been all season. Unfortunately he cracked again under the pressure in the first half, throwing two interceptions. The second was the type of ill-advised throw into coverage, off of his back foot, that we continue to hope he can get away from. On that play he had an opportunity to slide left and buy some more time as there was no one out there. Unfortunately that feel of the pocket and oncoming rushers is still the part of his game that lags behind.
To Jake's credit, however, he once again played like a different quarterback in the second half. This has become a trend this season, and likely points to Lane Kiffin's mastery of the halftime adjustment. In the second half, the Tide seemed to deploy more max protection, sending only two receivers out into the route so that Coker would have the time to press the ball down the field over a defense that was intent on pressuring the pocket. Fortunately, one of the receivers in said routes is named Calvin Ridley. I think it is safe to say at this point that Ridley is a bona fide superstar. After Saturday's nine catches for 140 yards, Ridley is on pace to crush the legendary Amari Cooper's freshman numbers from the 2012 national championship season. If he continues to get open in this manner, defenses will eventually have to game plan toward him which will open up a few more lanes in the run game. Richard Mullaney continues to complement Ridley's big play threat with tough catches over the middle. He has emerged as the critical, reliable possession receiver that every QB must have.
Special teams were a mixed bag again. The Tide managed to get a punt tipped, but also stuffed a fake punt at a critical moment in the game. Adam Griffith made half of his FG attempts, which at this point is probably about what we can expect since he's been pretty consistent in that number. We finally got old JK Scott back, averaging 50 yards on four punts despite the tip. He kicked the air out of the ball on one of them, getting a fair catch after a 58-yarder in the air. Hopefully he is back.
The Tide has now successfully navigated the first two legs of a brutal October schedule and must shift gears to face the Texas A&M Aggies and their hurry-up Air Raid attack, in one of the more hostile environments in college football, after playing two big, physical running teams. Such is life in the SEC. Survive and advance is the mantra for the rest of the season and, despite a few warts, Alabama is still here.