Arkansas’ third quarter rally not enough against Alabama run game in 49-26 Hog loss

Razorback sophomore running back Raheim Sanders (#5) from Rockledge, FL runs for a first down against Alabama Saturday afternoon at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville

By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE — No. 20 Arkansas fell behind 28-0, and then rallied to pull within 28-23 before the Tide took a 49-26 win before 75,579 fans in Razorback Stadium.

The crowd was the fifth-largest one ever at Razorback Stadium. The crowd did their part, staying for the second half even though the Hogs were down 28-7 at intermission. The Hogs reversed their fortunes in the third quarter, which has been a terrible one for them all season, and outscored the Tide 16-0 in the first 15 minutes after halftime. Alabama quarterback Bryce Young left the game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury, and it seemed everything was going Arkansas’ way heading into the fourth quarter.

The play of the game came with Alabama facing a third-and-15 play at its own 20 on the second play of the fourth quarter. Backup quarterback Jalen Milroe appeared contained, but then broke free for a 77 yard run to the Arkansas 3-yard line. Running back Jase McClellan scored on a second-and-goal play from the three and Alabama went up 35-23. Sam Pittman talked about Milroe’s back-breaking run that slammed the Arkansas momentum door shut.

“It was huge,” Pittman said. “They were down I think inside the 20 in a 28-23 game. They went 77, and then they scored a couple plays later and got it back up to a 12-point game. We didn’t answer on offense. That was a big, big play. I’m proud of the team for the way we came out and fought back into the game. We were in it, in it. That play right there seemed to take the wind out of our sails and we couldn’t convert the next time we had the ball, but that was a big, big play.”

Alabama then scored on its next two possessions to ice the game. Jahmyr Gibbs scored on a 72-yard run with 12:29 remaining in the game. After Cam Little booted a 34-yard field goal, Gibbs then broke free for a 76-yard touchdown to set the final margin of victory.

“Obviously, Gibbs’ run, I don’t think we touched him,” Pittman said. “We have to get better. We have to tackle better. We seem to say it every week. We have to eat up space better. On offense, we have to throw the ball better, too. Right now, we’re one dimensional. We have to be able to throw and catch and protect and all those things. It has to be better because we can’t just turn and hand the ball off and beat really good teams. We have to be better.”

Arkansas’ first touchdown came with 21 seconds remaining in the first half. KJ Jefferson found wide receiver Ketron Jackson for a six-yard touchdown pass. It was a nine-play, 75-yard drive that took 1 minute, 53 seconds and seemed to breathe some life into a stagnant offense to that point.

Arkansas got the ball to start the second half, but couldn’t do much with it. They punted, but then forced an Alabama punt as well. The Razorbacks had a first-and-10 at its own 22. They marched down the field with a seven-play, 78-yard drive that ended with running back AJ Green scampering 13 yards for a touchdown. Little’s PAT brought the Hogs to within 28-14 with 7:47 remaining in the third quarter.

Jake Bates then perfectly executed an onside kick that seemed to take the Tide by surprise. Arkansas recovered and had a first down at its own 46. The Hogs moved the football with runs from Jefferson and Rocket Sanders and receptions by Jackson and Jadon Haselwood. Arkansas had a first-and-goal at the Alabama five, but had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Little. That pulled the Hogs to within 28-17 with 1:38 remaining in the third quarter. Pittman said the onside kick was something the Hogs felt would work from watching tape.

“Seeing it on tape, we felt like it was there,” Pittman said. “Bates was really good at it. He had done it at his previous school. It just seemed like the right time to use it. It worked, and we went down and scored, so that was a good deal.”

Disaster struck again for the Tide late in the third quarter. Arkansas held Alabama forcing a punt and the snap to punter James Burnip was a bad one. Burnip chased the bad snap back to his own three and fell on it giving Arkansas a first down at that spot.

It took the Hogs one play to score as Sanders ran for three yards. The Hogs elected to go for two and a Jefferson run was denied. But with 19 seconds left in the third quarter it appeared the Hogs were in a great position to break the losing skid that stretches back to 2006. Pittman was asked about the third-quarter turnaround?

“I don’t know,” Pittman said. “We emphasize so many things. Coach sets up here and if it works and says I did this and I did that. We’ve been emphasizing tackling and blocking and covering and stuff too. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The third quarter, we just stayed in here and stretched. I talked to them and the captains talked to them. It’s the same things we did at practice. We just changed it up. We hadn’t won a third quarter all year so we changed it up. I don’t know if it worked or not or if it was because we were down 21. I do know the kids answered the challenge and that was good to see.”

While Arkansas was 5 of 16 on third down conversions, Alabama was 9 of 14 and that proved to be one of the differences.

“It was big,” Pittman said. “They convert nine and stay on the field or they convert half of them and they’re off the field half the time. It’s a huge deal. When Bryce was in there, they were taking us to empty and kind of picking us apart. They were running down the middle some post routes that basically were wide open that we have to get better in coverage. They were big.”

But a 21-3 fourth quarter in favor of Alabama (5-0, 2-0) allowed the streak to live on for at least another season. Arkansas (3-2, 1-2) now travels to Starkville to face a tough Mississippi State squad. The Bulldogs routed Texas A&M 42-24 on Saturday in Starkville. Mississippi State (4-1, 1-1) and Coach Mike Leach will be looking for their first win over a Pittman-coached team at Arkansas.

“We’ve lost two in a row and last year we lost three in a row at one point then reeled off four of the next five with one of the losses being to Alabama,” Pittman said. “We lost to a good team today. We did. We did not particularly play well. Part of it is they played well. But you know the season has seven games left, there’s a lot of really good things that can happen in our season for us and we’ve got to get on a winning track. So coming back Monday we’re going to go back to work and go practice just like we did at this point last year when we lost three in a row.”

Kickoff on Saturday in Starkville is set for 11 a.m. and televised on the SEC Network.

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