The No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide survived their first big test of a difficult three-game stretch against ranked SEC rivals, defeating the No. 16 Arkansas Razorbacks 49-30 on the strength of five forced turnovers and a sharp offensive display Saturday at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Alabama's offense repeatedly gashed the Arkansas defense for big plays in the first half, building a 35-17 advantage at the break.
Three second-half interceptions by cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick keyed the win for the Crimson Tide, with the last one being a 100-yard pick-six in the fourth quarter that put the game out of reach for a Razorbacks squad that did all it could to hang tough with the top-ranked team in the nation.
It was a huge performance for the sophomore, per Alabama's official Twitter account:
ESPN provided a look at the big play:
The win made it nine straight for Alabama over Arkansas, and it would be 10 if not for a 2007 victory the Crimson Tide were forced to vacate. Alabama now has to look forward to a road game against No. 9 Tennessee next Saturday before hosting No. 8 Texas A&M on Oct. 22.
True freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts accounted for 253 passing yards and four total touchdowns (two rushing, two passing), while running back Damien Harris posted 182 all-purpose yards and two scores.
Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen did his best to keep his team in the game behind a leaky offensive line, finishing with 400 passing yards and three scores. But his three interceptions and a fumble led to far too many points for Alabama.
The Crimson Tide's punishing defense extended to the run game, as Arkansas managed just 73 yards on the ground, well below its 197-yard average coming into the contest.
Alabama's rushing attack was in working order from the start. Joshua Jacobs and Harris ripped off runs of 56 and 57 yards, respectively, and Hurts ran in for two touchdowns to help Alabama seize a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
AL.com's Michael Casagrande was impressed with Alabama's attack early:
Arkansas responded thanks to Allen. Despite facing immense pressure and taking several hard shots in the backfield, he engineered a long scoring drive that ended in a 24-yard touchdown strike to tight end Jeremy Sprinkle.
The Crimson Tide kept pounding Allen, however, turning the pressure into points when linebacker Tim Williams scooped up Allen's fumble and took it to the house.
A 56-yard swing pass from Hurts to Harris helped Alabama increase its lead to 28-7, and after an Arkansas field goal, running back Bo Scarbrough scampered in from 21 yards out for his fourth touchdown of the season to keep the Crimson Tide rolling. It didn't help matters that Arkansas lost stud sophomore linebacker Dre Greenlaw to an apparent foot injury early in the contest.
Allen kept Arkansas in the game with a 16-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Keon Hatcher, helping his team cut Alabama's lead to 35-17 at the half.
A pair of Fitzpatrick interceptions early in the third quarter looked set to bury Arkansas, with the first leading to a four-yard touchdown reception by Calvin Ridley. But the Razorbacks got some rare pressure on Hurts and forced him into his first interception since Week 1 against USC.
Allen found Hatcher in the back of the end zone for their second scoring hook-up of the game.
SEC Network shared the replay:
After forcing Alabama to punt, Arkansas threatened to make Tide fans nervous. Allen worked his magic on a long, winding drive, converting on three third downs and finding Sprinkle for 11 yards on 4th-and-10 to keep the Razorbacks' fourth-quarter hopes alive.
SEC Country's Jason Kersey admired the signal-caller's work in the face of a relentless Crimson Tide pass rush:
But it was Fitzpatrick's day to shine, as the ultra-quick corner jumped a route in the end zone and returned the interception 100 yards for a touchdown that helped Alabama increase its lead to 49-24.
ESPN Stats & Info noted Alabama has made a habit out of getting points with its offense on the sideline:
That play put fears of a Razorbacks comeback to rest, as the Crimson Tide brought in backup quarterback Cooper Bateman to wind down the game. Arkansas scored a late touchdown, but that did nothing other than soften the final scoreline.
Even though it was a big win, a few extra yards of offense for Arkansas still enraged head coach Nick Saban, per Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer:
Alabama will need the same kind of big plays and killer instinct it displayed against Arkansas next week against the Volunteers. Tennessee nearly completed another miraculous comeback against Texas A&M on Saturday but fell short in double overtime, 45-38.
The Volunteers, who were down by 21 points before tying it late, have made multiple double-digit comebacks this season. Should Alabama find itself with an early advantage against the Vols, winning the turnover battle could prove to be crucial.
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema provided an update on Greenlaw's injury, per ESPN Radio's Bo Mattingly:
Bielema also commented on the team's defensive performance, which saw it give up 517 total yards to the Crimson Tide:
Arkansas' next game is at home against No. 14 Ole Miss, which put up 43 points in a loss to Alabama earlier this season. If the Razorbacks don't find a way to sharpen the defense soon, it could be a long season for the Fayetteville faithful.