Alabama Scores Big Late to Get Past Arkansas
Alabama quarterback Jake Coker said it was a play the team had been working on all week in practice.
Lucky for him and the eighth-ranked Crimson Tide, it turned out to be the play that helped make the final outcome a favorable one.
Coker’s 81-yard touchdown pass to freshman Calvin Ridley late in the third quarter proved the biggest difference Saturday, putting Alabama up for good in its 27-14 victory over Arkansas on homecoming.
“It was big. It changed everybody. Momentum kind of came our way,” Coker said. “Calvin did his job, ran the right route and that got the job done.”
After a defensive stalemate through the better part of the first three quarters, Coker’s touchdown pass broke the game open for Alabama, leading, in part, to 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter after falling behind after two quarters.
“At halftime, in games like this, we knew this would be a tough game,” coach Nick Saban said.
And at least for the first three series of the second half, that continued to be the case. Alabama (5-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) opened the third quarter with three straight punts, all while trailing 7-3 against an unranked Razorbacks team.
Then, a spark.
Coker found a wide-open Ridley on the long scoring play after the true freshman used a double move to create separation behind an Arkansas defense that had stymied Alabama for much of the night up to that point. The touchdown, which came on the first play of that drive, gave the Crimson Tide a 10-7 lead with 1:39 left in the third quarter.
Following Ridley’s score, Alabama scored 17 more points across three of its next four possessions to build its lead up to 27-7 by the 2:44 mark in the fourth quarter.
“This is when you find out who you are, and how bad you do what you want to do,” Saban said. “I thought the guys came out and responded really well in the second half.”
Offensively, Coker completed 24 of 33 passes for 262 yards, two scores – his second coming on a 3-yard toss to Richard Mullaney at the start of the fourth quarter – and two interceptions. Derrick Henry broke a school record with his 11th consecutive game with at least one touchdown to go along with his 95 yards on a career-high 27 carries.
Defensively, though, Alabama was stout throughout the course of four quarters Saturday, giving up just 220 yards of offense, including a mere 44 yards rushing against one of the SEC’s top rushing attacks. Alex Collins, who ranks among the nation’s top running backs, carried the ball 12 times for 26 yards.
Senior linebacker Reggie Ragland, who at one point briefly left Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury, led the way with eight tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a pass breakup for Alabama.
Junior safety Eddie Jackson had an interception returned to the Arkansas 13 immediately following Mullaney’s touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“Offensively, the story of the day was we just couldn't do anything with any consistency,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. “Couldn't run it, couldn't throw it, couldn't convert the third downs the way we needed to and that ended up forcing the hand on a couple of other issues.”
Arkansas (2-4, 1-2) took the lead at 7-3 with 1:29 left in the half after Coker’s second interception put the Razorbacks inside Alabama territory for the first time all game at the 12. Three plays later, quarterback Brandon Allen saw an open Drew Morgan in the end zone for a 4-yard strike.
With the win, the Crimson Tide is now 4-8 under Saban when trailing at halftime, which includes top-10 wins against Virginia Tech and LSU in 2009, as well as a 2010 road game at Arkansas.
Since his arrival in 2007, Saban has never lost to Arkansas (9-0).
Alabama travels to face top-10 opponent and SEC West rival Texas A&M in College Station, Texas next week.