FAYETTEVILLE – The Arkansas Razorbacks can say they answered Alabama’s first-quarter field goal.
That’s about all the Razorbacks can say other than Alabama’s nationally No. 1 Crimson Tide truly appears No. 1.
The Tide rolled, 52-3 on a 38-degree Saturday chilling Arkansas’ Senior Day at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
First-year Coach Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks close the regular season books at 3-7 in this Covid-19 coronavirus influenced entirely SEC 10 games season Tidal waved Saturday but vastly improved over the 0-8, 0-8 SEC teams of 2018 and 2019.
Nick Saban’s SEC West champion Tide rolls 10-0 into next Saturday night’s SEC Championship game in Atlanta against SEC East champion Florida.
Alabama not only asserted its superior talent but was helped by repeated Arkansas offensive false starts along its offensive line.
Ty Clary, Arkansas’ center the last two years but this year a guard, played center Saturday replacing injured starter Ricky Stromberg.
“Ricky got a concussion on Tuesday,” Pittman said. “And we had a new center and new cadence and obviously when you have that happen you are going to have one or two of them. We had several of them. It wasn’t Ty’s fault. Then the turnovers, we just couldn’t get anything going on offense. We played a really good football team and obviously they hit us and knocked the turnovers out of us and everything like that. But man you can’t beat a team like that and play the way we did with the offsides on offense.”
All week Pittman professed the Hogs had no chance to beat Alabama if they didn’t believe they could and vowed they would.
They appeared opening believing, even taking the ball upon winning the coin toss instead of the customary deferring to received the second half kickoff.
Graduate transfer senior quarterback Feleipe Franks, passing 8 of 10 for 90 yards and shrugging off the injured ribs preventing him from playing last Saturday’s 50-48 loss at Missouri, hit Mike Woods with a 16-yard pass on Play One.
Alabama regrouped defensively, third down sacking Franks.
It marked the first of eight Alabama sacks on Franks and redshirt freshman KJ Jefferson. Jefferson was stellar starting for Franks against Missouri but Alabama exited Saturday with an injured knee as he fumbled during the third quarter.
Franks, periodically removed for his health and to give Jefferson more time, volunteered to finish the game out of reach.
It was 0-0 when DeVonta Smith, whose 84-yard punt return touchdown later in the first quarter initiated the Tide’s unanswered 49 points, returned 24 of Reid Bauer’s 34-yard punt to the Arkansas 47.
Alabama Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Mac Jones marched the Tide to the 28. On third and two safeties Jalen Catalon and Joe Foucha stopped Najee Harris, Alabama’s 1,000-yards plus running back for no gain.
The Tide settled for Will Reichard’s 48-yard field goal at 10:54.
The Hogs took that as a momentum seizing possession.
Running back Trelon Smith burst 16 yards on Arkansas’ first play from its 25. Franks and Smith completed a 24-yard pass to Smith and the only two passes he completed to receiver Treylon Burks, blanketed by the Tide after Burks’ 10 catches for 206 yards at Missouri.
Burks went 0 for 1 as a passer, his late-game flea-flicker pass intercepted in the end zone by Alabama defensive back Brian Branch.
Arkansas advanced to the nine on its scoring possession before another sack led to Matthew Phillips, in his season’s first place-kicking appearance, kicking the 3-3 tying 26-yard field goal at 7:18.
At 2:36 of that first quarter, the believing Hogs experienced disbelief. DeVonta Smith took Reid Bauer’s middle of the field punt and zoomed 84 yards for the touchdown that stirred up the Tide.
“On the punt return we were trying to pin him on the sideline and the ball went to the middle of the field and gave them both directions to go,” Pittman said. “Nobody touched him. That along with the fumble down on the 6-yard line, it was a momentum change for us.”
Franks in the second quarter was strip-sacked by Alabama linebacker Chris Allen with defensive tackle DJ Dale recovering the fumble setting up Harris second-quarter touchdown.
By then it was 24-3 and would be 38-3 at half.
Jones, 24 of 29 for 208 yards, would turn it over to freshman quarterback Bryce Young midway through the third quarter up 45-3.
He would play turnover free thanks to a targeting penalty on Hayden Henry subbing for injured last week Butkus Award finalist Grant Morgan at middle linebacker. Henry trying for a sack made helmet to helmet contact just after Jones released his pass that Catalon picked off in the end zone and returned 43 yards.
Instead of Catalon’s pick, Jones got to hand off first and goal from the four for backup Alabama running back Brian Robinson’s third touchdown.
Arkansas safety Foucha, whose would have been crucial fumble recoveries in the 30-28 loss at Auburn and 27-24 loss to LSU in Fayetteville, were controversially officiated voided as “not clearly recovered,” did recover one that counted against Alabama but way too late to stem the Tide.
Alabama added a fourth-quarter touchdown on reserve running back Jase McClellan popping 80 untouched yards after Burks’ pass was picked off in the end zone.
“ Our defense played pretty well, I thought,” Pittman said. “Early especially, and then the punt return and of course we gave them the ball on the 6-yard line. So we have to get a lot better in the future. I did appreciate the way the kids played in the second half minus the long run there at the end.”
Given the unusual covid-19 virus circumstances affecting every team’s football season, Pittman believes the Hogs could receive a bowl bid even at 3-7.
“Absolutely,” Pittman said on postgame radio. “We beat three teams that were on our previous schedule in Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Tennessee. And I’d like to think we could have won 3 out of 4 at least of our preseason (unplayed nonconference games.) I don’t know that but I think we could have and that’s a 6-win season. I don’t want the kids to really end the season on this note because we’ve been in every game we’ve played except for today.”