TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Deep breath. Exhale. Again. Repeat as needed until rejuvenated.
Arkansas’ four-game grind against some of the best in the Southeastern Conference ended Saturday night with the Razorbacks at 3-5, one game worse than the predictions of realists. A much-needed open week is dead ahead, time for players and fans alike to regain the enthusiasm for competition that was palatable three weeks into the season.
Piled on victories by Florida and South Carolina, the 52-0 Alabama final means the Razorbacks have lost their last three games by a total of 134-17, a deep and depressing hole for any team and even worse for a group that cannot beat a conference opponent solely on talent.
For Arkansas, there were very few positives — mostly a moment here or there, like the well-thrown ball to Hunter Henry down the middle of the field in the first quarter and a 67-yard drive that began at the Arkansas 10.
Both times, the follow-up was all Alabama where Champion! is the Internet password in the press box and a reminder about the Crimson Tide’s 15 national championships dominates each of the big screens in the four corners of Bryant-Denny Stadium long before the opening kickoff.
The second time quarterback Brandon Allen tried for Henry, one of the three Alabama players in the area intercepted. Retreating from an all-out blitz 12 plays deep in the productive possession, Allen was fortunate that C.J. Mosley dropped what might have been the quarterback’s third pick six in four games.
Adding insult to injury, Alabama blocked Zach Hocker’s field goal attempt, his first miss in nine attempts this year.
The Alabama rout was so complete that when punter Sam Irwin-Hill ran for 12 yards and a first down in the second quarter, I figured extending the possession simply meant more punishment for Allen and whoever took the handoff. Three plays later, Irwin-Hill punted for real.
Subtract Irwin-Hill’s run and Arkansas’ running game netted 51 yards in the first half and the Razorbacks trailed by 28. At that point, Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, who were once knocking out 100-yard games with regularity, had a total of 17 carries for 37 and I don’t know how many times I had turned to my right and said, “That’s the way you’re supposed to tackle.”
On the other side, Alabama did as it pleased. Prefer the pass? Cue AJ McCarron, who completed 75 percent of his 16 throws in the first half, finished with three touchdown passes and a quarterback rating of 190-plus. Rather run? T.J. Yeldon averaged better than 7 yards per try and back-up Kenyan Drake did more than twice that on his six tries in the first half.
Knowing Arkansas could not match Alabama up front, I did believe the Razorbacks could compete in the kicking game. Talk about missing by a mile.
Irwin-Hill shanked a punt that left Alabama 38 yards for its second touchdown, Korliss Marshall barely reached the 10 on a kickoff return, Keon Hatcher lost a fumble on a kickoff return, Hocker’s field goal attempt hardly got airborne, and a roughing the punter penalty led to a field goal for 45-0.
For good reason, that margin felt much more definitive than South Carolina 52-7 a week earlier. This time around, there were no what-ifs.
Once again still chunking long after the game was out of hand, Allen was 7-of-25 only days after coach Bret Bielema said Allen’s first full week of practice since injuring his throwing shoulder was supposed to improve the timing in the passing game. There was little chance to double-check that because Allen was in serious jeopardy every time he dropped back.
By the way, if you don’t think these Alabama fans are serious, 30 seconds deep in the fourth quarter, the few remaining in the end zone were chanting, “Block that kick,” when Irwin-Hill prepared to punt.
For anybody who cares, the punt was killed inside the Alabama 5.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org