It came down to strength on strength — best shots vs. best shooters.
Heisman Trophy winner vs. major Heisman contender.
Methodical vs. spectacular.
Defensive power vs. offensive dynamics.
Sophisticated passing game vs. inexperienced secondary.
A quarterback who never loses vs. one who is trying to establish winning.
Let’s sort through a few of these things after the Crimson Tide’s surge to a 24-20 victory over Arkansas.
Mark Ingram may not have won a repeat Heisman Trophy Saturday but he clearly plowed himself among the frontrunners with the way he took a reeling team on his shoulders and carried it across a minefield to a comeback victory against a highly motivated team. If he continues on his pace, one scene folks will remember will be Ingram pushing the pile against what seemingly was the entire Arkansas defense to set up the winning touchdown. It was an old-school plow run that was devastating.
While the Tide was against the ropes and needed a punch, Alabama reverted to its heavyweight tendencies and came out flailing — and connecting, landing gut shots to the Hog defense. The major blows came primarily from Ingram, who is a piledriver but picks holes with amazing skill and has incredible ball security for a heavily targeted back.
Not able to apply pressure consistently to Mallett, Alabama’s defensive coordinator Keith Smart added a dose of finesse and mixed his defense in an attempt to confuse the UA quarterback in key situations. It worked.
One major problem with a quarterback who has a great arm is his tendency to trust his arm too much. Mallett made three "oh my gosh" throws — into coverage that resulted in an interception in the end zone, an ill-advised attempt that resulted in an interception that led to the winning touchdown and an goshawful lob attempt apparently to get a ball out of bounds that killed the Hogs’ final comeback effort.
Those late gaffes overshadowed Mallett’s extraordinary bit of leadership and poise that spurred the Razorbacks down the field for a touchdown in the final seconds of the first half. It didn’t seem Mallett lost his poise the second half, but his decision-making seem to short out with some different maneuvers from the Alabama defense.
The Tide ultimately won this game because, even with a young team, they know how to take a punch. They are bred to do so in big scraps. The reason most of these players came to Alabama was to be the hunted and play in many big games like this one. Nick Saban has put it into his players’ and coaches’ DNA that when behind a couple of scores to go back to basics and fundamentals and find another gear. They are used to being in big fights before roaring crowd. Alabama is not phased by getting knocked down with a powerful punch. Before a highly charged challenge, the Tide knew how to respond. "We matched their intensity," said Saban in a television interview afterward.
The Crimson Tide is comfortable with winning methodically and with a bullseye on their elephant icon.
The Hogs played a good game and put themselves in postion to win in the fourth quarter, something every fan would have taken beforehand. Even though they made a few, they couldn’t make enough plays the fourth quarter.
They’re a good team. Now, we wonder what this type of stunning loss (after leading 20-7 and having the No. 1 team on the ropes) will affect the players’ psyche the rest of the season. They have an open week to ponder that.
We already know how it affected the Razorback fans’ pysche. Ask those fans who remember Arkansas-Texas 1969.
For UA fans, it’s like Lucy’s trick of jerking the football away from Charlie Brown.
When the Hogs seemed get close to big-time glory, the trap door opens. And championship teams such as Alabama know how to operate a trap door.
But consider a respresentative cross-section of reactions from UA fans on Facebook minutes after the game:
"Blew it against Alabama."
"Sadness in Hogville."
"They do this to me every time!"
"Not able beat the big boys hump that Arkansas can’t ever to see get over."
"If you are going to brag to Erin Andrews (in a pregame interview) how far you can throw the football, you sure as hell should be able to throw it out of bounds."
So, it was a perfect peak setting to a free fall to the valley in a matter of minutes.
For the Hogs, after the victory over Georgia, it was a free-shot, gravy game.
Will the UA fans dare to get so excited and worked up anytime soon? Don’t know.
Another setting for a delicious victory turned sour.
And in choppy waters, the Tide knows how to create and ride the waves — and inspire a variety of appropriate metaphors.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or email@example.com)