Alabama routed Arkansas 41-9 on Homecoming night. Here is the Bama report card:
Rushing Offense: A
If you want your rushing offense to play well then it is always a good idea to get off to a fast start. Alabama did exactly that on Saturday as Damien Harris took the first play from scrimmage 75 yards for a touchdown and the Crimson Tide never really looked back from that statement moment.
Harris scored his second touchdown of the first quarter on the Crimson Tides’ third offense series and at 17-0 the game was pretty much over before eight minutes of game time had elapsed. While the second offensive series was a disappointment – Alabama went three and out after being gifted the ball on the Arkansas 25-yard line – the running game had done enough already to secure a win.
For the game, Alabama rushed 43 times for 308 yards and four touchdowns. Harris and Bo Scarbrough were able to get in their work (190 yards) and then get out of the game (just 16 plays combined). As a team, the Crimson Tide carried the ball at an average of 7.2 yards per rush against an overmatched Razorbacks defense.
Passing Offense: C
It is scary to think how good Alabama could be if they ever got their passing offense to a point where Nick Saban would be happy.
Jalen Hurts was as advertised here, in as much as he was good enough to keep the Arkansas defense honest with the pass, but never a threat to take the game over through the air. Part of that is because ‘Bama simply doesn’t need to throw the ball at this point, but eventually a team will be able to shut down the run and Hurts will have to open up.
On Saturday Hurts was 12-of-19 for 155 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Calvin Ridley was again the leading receiver (four catches and 51 yards), while the rest of the receivers and backs split the workload.
Rushing Defense: A+
The days of Arkansas having a dominant offensive line and running game seems like a long, long time ago. This game did nothing to alter those thoughts as the Alabama defense swarmed all over the Hogs rushing attack, shutting it down and making Arkansas as one-dimensional as possible.
With starting quarterback Austin Allen missing the game with a shoulder injury, Arkansas was likely going to need to lean on its running game as much as possible. Then their backs came out and combined to rush for 27 yards on 29 carries. When you realize that Chase Hayden had one carry for 10 yards and Cole Kelley had one for 13 it is clear that the Hogs also had a lot of plays for minimal gain or heavy losses.
Defensively it was a team effort, but a couple of players really stood out. Ronnie Harrison had 10 tackles total, while Rashaan Evans was in the backfield all day. Evans finished with a couple of sacks and 3.5 tackles for a loss as he constantly changed the way Arkansas tried to attack the Alabama defense.
Passing Defense: B
The Alabama passing defense wasn’t quite as sensational as the rushing unit, but the Crimson Tide effectively shut down Arkansas and its backup quarterback. Kelley did everything he could in this on, throwing the ball 23 times but only completing 42 passes. When he missed though he generally did so in a way that wasn’t too destructive for his team as he only threw a single interception, a pretty good return considering how overmatched his team was and how good the Alabama secondary is.
Kelley is a player that the Arkansas staff has huge hopes for and the learning experience he gained in this game will be worth much more to him and the team in the long term than studying film or throwing in practice. On this day though, Alabama was simply too good.
Special Teams: D-
While it would be nice to give the Alabama special teams’ unit credit for the mess that was the first Arkansas punting attempt of the day, the truth is that all those problems were of punter Blake Johnson’s own making. Johnson let the snap fly through his hands then, after picking the ball up with plenty of time to still get a kick away, decided instead to throw an ugly pass that had no chance at all of being completed. Being generous we could say that the ‘Bama players staying alert forced the incompletion, but the truth is it was just bad Arkansas play.
The overall special teams’ grade though is lowered because a Henry Ruggs III fumble on a punt return at the Alabama 32-yard line at the end of the first quarter could have altered the flow of this game. The score was still just 17-0 at the time and the mistake gave the Hogs by far the best field position they had achieved to this point. The ’Bama defense though had other ideas and an 8-yard sack by Evans later the Hogs went three-and-out and punted the ball back to Alabama.
It was just another ho-hum coaching performance against a bad team. Some analysts in the week had said that Alabama could start its second team and beat Arkansas. While this seems like a stretch, it was clear from the very beginning that Alabama was a much better team than Arkansas and that Saban would have little in the way of big decisions to make on the way to a Crimson Tide victory.