Alabama Football: WHEW! Tide Hold On for Win Against Ryan Mallett, Hogs, 24-20

Charlie MillsonCorrespondent IJanuary 16, 2017

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

If Alabama had to lose, fans of the team wanted it to be like this.

If 'Bama was going to lose a game against another SEC team, it was supposed to be hard-fought, close, and breathtaking.

And it was.  

But the reigning national champions proved that they are still the team to beat in the SEC with a come from behind win, 24-20, against their interdivisional foe that left many in the stadium breathless.

Alabama even attempted a fourth down with less than 1:40 left to play in their own territory. 

Fittingly, Greg McElroy pushed the pile the needed five inches.

The other thing gasping for air when the game ended on Saturday in Fayetteville was the Tide defense as Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallet carved up a young Alabama team for over 300 yards, 1 touchdown, but three costly interceptions.

The win by Alabama continued the two plus season unbeaten streak and an equally impressive streak of SEC regular season victories dating back to the 2008 season.

For the second week in a row, Mallett tried to lead his team to the win against a team that had rallied late to challenge the Hogs.

His attempt was thwarted 

Little went right for the Tide in the second quarter.  Greg McElroy was extremely un-McElroy like, throwing two interceptions (tying his record for the second-year starter) and at times seemed utterly confused and frustrated.  One of those interceptions took away points on a third and goal and led to a Mallett rushing touchdown right before halftime.

Even what seemed like a drive-ending false start against Arkansas was negated when the review booth decided that the ball should be respotted giving the Hogs a first down.  

'Bama's defense at time looked like, well, Duke's.

But in the second half, when the Tide looked to Heisman winner Mark Ingram to carry the team, number 22 found some decent blocking support and often made short gains that led to several crucial first downs out of the wildcat formation.

Mallett and the Hogs were stymied for most of the second half, scoring only a field goal in the third quarter to extend the lead to 20-7. 

Up to that point, busted assignments ruled the day for Alabama, as Mallett had not only plenty of time to throw, but he also found his pick of several open receivers due to the inexperience of the 'Bama secondary.  The television commentators constantly used the word 'gashed' to described what Mallett did to the Tide for much of the first half.

Besides the mistakes, penalties derailed the Tide on several possessions. An uncharacteristic holding call hurt 'Bama when they had possession early in the fourth. 

But McElroy and finally, Ingram, took the Tide to victory.

As NFL Films commentator John Facenda once said, "Great teams aren't always great; they're only great when they have to be."

And, on Saturday, Alabama was good enough to escape with the four point win. 

Ingram opened the scoring for the Tide on a great 54 yard run in the first quarter as 'Bama tied the score 7-7 early.  Then Richardson scored on a McElroy pass and great run after the catch for 20 yards to bring the score to within 6 late in the third quarter.

McElroy did well on a drive mid-way through the fourth quarter, but he was sacked on a third and long after missing a wide open Hanks in the corner of the end zone on the previous play. It led to a Jeremy Shelley field goal that would bring the game to 17-20.

Mallett then threw another pick that Robert Lester picked off and returned to the Arkansas 12.  Ingram's final touchdown gave the Tide the lead for good.  

There was no more Mallett magic as Dre Kilpatrick picked off the Hog quarterback the final time, setting up the final first down that ran out the clock.

The record home crowd for Arkansas sat stunned that 'Bama escaped with the breathless win.

The Tide and the fans have only a week to catch their collective breath before facing a surging Florida Gator team next Saturday.