TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was a topsy-turvy day in the Southeastern Conference with Top-25 teams Texas A&M, Georgia, LSU, Florida and South Carolina suffering losses that damaged their hopes of winning a league championship.
Alabama made sure there was no tumble at the top in Tuscaloosa.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide continued its dominance against Arkansas with another 52-0 win in front of an announced crowd of 101,821 in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama won its seventh straight in the series in familiar fashion, leaning on a stifling defense that shut out Arkansas for the second straight season and an offense that enjoyed plenty of big plays against the undermanned Razorbacks.
The loss sent Arkansas (3-5, 0-4) limping into its off week with a five-game losing streak, including consecutive losses to South Carolina and Alabama by a combined score of 104-7. The five-game skid is Arkansas’ longest since former coach Danny Ford’s final season in 1997 and the Razorbacks also fell to 0-4 in conference play for the first time since 2005.
“Obviously, this is getting a little old,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. “Nothing that we did out there (Saturday) can give us any indication that the things we need to do are just that far away or that close … I mean, it’s a long way to go.”
It wasn’t what Arkansas imagined when it came to Tuscaloosa, planning to regain respect after suffering the 52-7 loss to South Carolina last week. But Alabama wasted no time in routing the Razorbacks again.
Alabama took the opening kickoff and marched 68 yards on 12 plays, capping the drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback A.J. McCarron to fullback Jalston Fowler. The Crimson Tide scored four times in the first half, including 46- and 1-yard touchdown runs by speedy running back Kenyan Drake.
Drake’s 46-yard touchdown included two missed tackles that turned a lost-yardage play into one of the biggest highlights of the game. But the missed tackles on the play weren’t isolated. A rash of them frustrated Bielema once again.
“We just can’t have one missed tackle turn into a touchdown,” Bielema said. “That happened on three different occasions today. Obviously there’s a fundamental breakdown there that has to be corrected.”
Said safety Alan Turner: “We know we made a lot of mistakes.”
Arkansas, meanwhile, went three-plays-and-out on its first possession and quarterback Brandon Allen threw an interception on the second series.
Even when the Razorbacks put together a positive drive it ended in frustration Saturday night. Arkansas place kicker Zach Hocker had a 41-yard field goal attempt blocked with the Razorbacks trailing 21-0 in the second quarter.
Alabama followed the special teams mistake with a five-play, 72-yard drive late in the half. McCarron capped the drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass to receiver Amari Cooper, helping the Crimson Tide take a 28-0 lead to the locker room.
“There’s a reason why they’re No. 1,” Arkansas running back Jonathan Williams said.
It didn’t get any better for Arkansas after the break.
Receiver Keon Hatcher fumbled on the opening kickoff, which was the second of Arkansas’ three turnovers on the night. Alabama recovered and quickly scored on McCarron’s 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end O.J. Howard.
The lead eventually ballooned to 42-0 in the third quarter on running back T.J. Yeldon’s 24-yard touchdown run before Alabama coach Nick Saban pulled McCarron and most of Alabama’s starters. Still, Alabama tacked on 10 more points including backup running back Derrick Henry’s 80-yard touchdown run with 59 seconds left.
McCarron finished 15-of-21 for 180 yards with three touchdowns Saturday, while Drake finished with 104 yards and Yeldon with 88. Alabama had 532 yards.
Allen finished 7-of-25 for 91 yards with two interceptions, struggling to lead an offense that finished with 256 yards. Arkansas has been held scoreless for seven straight quarters dating back to its opening-drive score against the Gamecocks.
“As an offense we didn’t do a whole lot,” Allen said. “We didn’t help our ourselves out. We didn’t help our defense out. We didn’t help anybody on our team.”
Alabama — which has not allowed a touchdown in its four home games this season — has scored 111 unanswered points in the Arkansas series dating back to the 2011 season. The Razorbacks’ last points against the Crimson Tide came on former quarterback Tyler Wilson’s 19-yard touchdown pass to receiver Cobi Hamilton in the third quarter of the 38-14 loss here.
“It’s getting very old for us,” Allen said. “We’re tired of losing. There’s not a single person on this team that’s coming into every game thinking we’re losing.”
It’s a far cry from Bielema’s bravado during a Razorback club meeting in the offseason, saying he didn’t come to Arkansas to play Alabama, he came to beat the Tide.
That goal remains the same, but his first chance showed how far apart the programs are as Alabama continues to chase its fourth national title in the past five seasons. Meanwhile, Bielema’s first taste of SEC play has been forgettable with Arkansas having been outscored 179-50 in losses to Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama.
The only silver lining? Arkansas finally has an off week after eight straight games.
The Razorbacks will try to regroup in the next two weeks before returning to the field against Auburn, which knocked off Texas A&M on Saturday, 45-41, to improve to 6-1.
“I was always taught tough times don’t last, tough people do,” Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith said. “This has been a tough stretch, playing very good teams. But it’s all up to us. We’ve got this bye week to fix mistakes and get ready for Auburn.”
Bielema said the extra time will be critical for the Razorbacks, who must win three of their final four game to become bowl eligible. He said Arkansas will spend the two weeks taking a look at every aspect of a program that has been overwhelmed in SEC play.
“What we have to do as coaches is begin to move forward with guys that are going to execute what we’re asking them to do,” Bielema said. “If a guy repeatedly puts the ball on the ground, if we’re dropping passes, we’ve just got to move on. It’s to the point where you have to understand where we’re going.
“The guys that survive this, the guys that move forward with us will be rewarded. I don’t know if it’s going to come in the next game or if it’s going to come a month from now or a year from now. But it’s going to take a little bit of a leap of faith.”