Well that was a delightfully boring game. There’s a large contingent of Alabama fans out there that, while they love winning, would prefer close, exciting games.
This type of game is my favorite. For the 3rd time in the last 5 games, Alabama didn’t allow a single touchdown (and would have been 4, if not for Auburn getting a garbage time score against a half-second team defense), all while scoring over well 40 points for the 9th straight game.
Dominant? Yeah. This team has become absolutely dominant on both sides of the ball— something you almost never see at at this level of football.
The first half started a bit slowly for Alabama, as Christian Harris hurt his shoulder making a tackle on a slant pass on the first play of the game before the Tide forced a punt after Christian Barmore the World Devourer enveloped Feleipe Franks for a sack. Alabama wound up kicking a field goal after a nice punt return from DeVonta Smith when the turf monster took down Najee Harris a couple of times and he was stopped on 3rd and short.
The next drive from the Razorbacks was a long one that slowly chipped away at Alabama’s soft zone defense, and the Tide struggled to muster a pass rush. They ultimately bowed up on the goalline and forced a field goal to make the game 3-3.
Another drive stalled after Najee Harris was taken down by the turf yet again (seriously, they had some awful grass. Mac Jones very nearly fell a couple of times just dropping back after taking the snap), and a 4th down attempt sailed just over Brian Robinson’s head on the sidelines.
A quick 3 and out got Alabama the ball back, and Smith housed this one for a touchdown to give Alabama the first highlight of the game.
First career punt return TD for DeVonta Smith— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 12, 2020
What can’t this guy do?! pic.twitter.com/W0cAYEtJBA
It was horrible coverage by the Razorbacks, but Smith just has that knack for finding the easiest routes to the open field, and has the speed to make it happen. Nobody in college football could have caught him in full stride there.
That touchdown seemed to fire up the rest of the team, and the game was pretty much over after that. Phidarian Mathis and Byron Young teamed up for a sack, and then Will Anderson followed them up with a soul-reaping sack. I half expected Franks to split into a spectral version of himself at impact when Anderson hit him in the guy.
This time, Alabama rode a series of nice rushes and checkdowns to tight end Miller Forristall to a quick touchdown for Najee Harris. One play later, Chris Allen blasted through the line of scrimmage and strip sacked Franks. Barmore went for the scoop and score, but fumble fingered it, and DJ Dale wound up with the recovery, and Najee only took one attempt to get right back into the endzone he had just come out of.
Another 3 and out from Arkansas and another patient drive full of checkdowns with a couple of mid-range throws to John Metchie saw Brian Robinson cap things off with a short touchdown of his own.
The teams went full Groundhog Day, and the Razorbacks went three and out again, followed by a 13-play drive of short rushes and short passes, with Robinson getting another goalline score.
Arkansas’s defensive gameplan involved playing 3 safeties deep most of the game without ever blitzing. With as much as Mac Jones has made people pay for blitzing by dropping bombs over their heads all year long, it wasn’t a bad strategy. However, Steve Sarkisian quickly identified it and he and Mac adjusted to just spreading the ball around to all his receivers, particularly Forrsitall, on little 6 yards gains all game long.
Part of what has made Mac Jones and the Alabama offense so dominant this season has been their ability to change up their philosophy depending on their opponent, and then being willing to stick with that and outplay their opponent even while calling plays that aren’t necessarily their strength.
Alabama entered halftime with a commanding 38-3 lead and 5 sacks without really a single offensive highlight to speak of. The 22 yarder to Metchie was the biggest of the half.
Alabama took nearly 8 minutes on the first drive out of half time. It almost ended when Jones rolled out to the right on the goal line and tried to force a throw while getting hit. Freshman sensation and likely All-American Jalen Catalon picked it off and raced down the sidelines, but freshman running back Jase McClellan showed off his speed and chased him down from behind to save the pick six.
It wound up moot anyway, since the hit on Jones was ruled a targeting and Alabama got a freebie, letting Robinson get his 3rd short rushing touchdown of the day.
Najee Harris didn’t play the entire second half, which I believe was a combination of the coaches wanting to protect him from injury while also getting senior Brian Robinson some significant playing time. With the rest of the games being post-season matchups, Robinson may not have much of a role, so this may have been his reward game for so many years of hard work for Alabama.
Barmore got another sack for another 3 and out, and Alabama subbed in the second team offense. After Xavier Williams dropped a 3rd down pass from Bryce Young and Alabama punted the ball for the first time of the day, the two teams saw three straight drives end in fumbles.
Eventually, nearing the end of the game, Arkansas tried a trick play double pass on 3rd and two. Drew Sanders blasted around right end, nearly sacking the QB, then racing over to the guy who caught the screen pass and nearly managed to sack him before he got the throw off.
At the same time, Brian Branch, playing the deep safety, read the trick play and covered the first man coming across the middle of the field, then expertly passed him off to DeMarcco Hellams and raced over to cover a delayed and disguised wheel route coming down the field. It came down to a jump ball, and Branch out positioned, out-jumped, and out-muscled the receiver to come down with the interception in the endzone.
It was a phenomenal play from start to finish for the true freshman, and the dude clearly has a bright future for Alabama at safety.
McClellan blasted through the line of scrimmage on the ensuing play, broke a tackle, and raced 80 yards for a touchdown. The final drive ended with an earth shattering sack from freshman Tim Smith and a brilliant open field tackle to prevent a first down from Branch yet again.
Alabama’s defense absolutely and utterly dominated today, only allowing 108 passing yards and 80 rushing yards. Franks actually completed 80% of his passes, but he got sacked nearly every time he dropped back, so he just never had time to actually throw anything. The last time Alabama got 8 sacks in a game was against Dak Prescott in 2015.
Christian Barmore had possibly the best game of his career, and combining his interior pressure with Will Anderson on the outside has been absolutely lethal the last few weeks. Chris Allen also is good for one or two great edge rushes per game, and Byron Young and Phidarian Mathis are getting more comfortable cleaning up QB scrambles. Tim Smith also continues to look like an energetic, explosive rusher at nose tackle and looks to be a budding superstar as well.
Christian Harris was replaced by Jaylen Moody after the first play, and honestly, Moody played great. He plays really fast and instinctual, and showed the same thing we saw out of him as a recruit a few years ago: though a bit undersized, he’s exceptional at chasing guys down horizontally.
The defensive backs were hardly tested all night, and Daniel Wright made a phenomenal first down saving tackle as he flew up from deep to make the stop in the open field. I don’t even remember the rest of them being involved in much of anything at all.
As for the backups, Drew Sanders definitely flashed a few times, as did Smith and Branch, as mentioned above. There’s a lot of freshman talent in this defense from the 2020 class, and that bodes well for the next couple of years.
Marcus Banks and Ronald Williams came in at outside corner, while Jalyn Armour-Davis was the nickel.
Offensively, the game was about as devoid of highlights for a 52-point outing as you’ll ever see. Some of that was dictated by Arkansas’s near-suicidal insistence on refusing to give up a big play while allowing all the 6 yards gains Alabama wanted, and some of that was a combination of the cold weather and horrible field conditions having the Alabama coaches a little tentative with trying to prevent injury.
Evan Neal missed the game due to ‘Rona issues, and senior Chris Owens stepped in and played fine in his place. Darrian Dalcourt also got a couple of nice snaps when Landon Dickerson missed a few plays, and he piledrived a couple of dudes into the endzone on a touchdown run. We also saw (from left to right) Kendall Randolph, Tanner Bowles, Dalcourt, Tommy Brown, and Damieon George come in for the second team offense.
Considering Alabama had already locked up the SEC West and, honestly, has likely locked up a berth in the playoffs, the number one goal today had to be to avoid injury. Christian Harris did mess up his shoulder on the first play and is expected to have an MRI tomorrow, so hopefully he’ll be good to go by next week.
Other than that, the defense got to pad their stats, the offense got to practice running a clock-control check down offense against a team that was determined to take away the deep shot, and Alabama got an easy victory to be the first team to ever go undefeated in a 10-game SEC regular season schedule.