By Robbie Neiswanger
Arkansas News Bureau
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Arkansas dug in on a fourth-down play in the third quarter, needing one yard to keep an important drive alive Saturday.
But when running back Dennis Johnson took a handoff and sprinted toward the line of scrimmage, his momentum was stopped well short of the first-down marker by Alabama’s front seven.
Four plays later, Alabama running back Trent Richardson broke a 25-yard run to set up yet another score in Alabama’s 38-14 win.
Arkansas said all week its goal of avenging last season’s loss to Alabama would hinge on two key factors: Running the ball against the Crimson Tide and eliminating the big plays that have defined the recent history of this SEC West series.
But the Razorbacks failed in both areas once again, leading to its fifth straight loss to the Tide in front of 101,821 in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
"We kind of stunk it up," Arkansas receiver Jarius Wright said, summing up the disappointment.
The Razorbacks (3-1) were rendered one-dimensional by Alabama’s hard-hitting defense, managing 17 rushing yards (and 226 total yards) in its first test. The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, found the end zone on a fake field goal, an interception return, a punt return and a 61-yard screen pass.
It culminated in another double-digit loss to Alabama (4-0). The Hogs have been outscored 146-55 in the four meetings under coach Bobby Petrino.
"They beat us in all three phases," Petrino said. "They made the big plays. We didn’t. Offensively we just couldn’t get anything established. They controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides."
Running back Ronnie Wingo managed 35 yards on 11 attempts. His best gain — a 26-yard run to the endzone in the first half — didn’t count. The touchdown was nullified by a holding call.
Quarterback Tyler Wilson completed 22 of 35 passes for 185 yards with two touchdowns and an interception before being pulled off the field in the fourth quarter. He was never sacked, but absorbed blow after blow from an Alabama defense that knew the Razorbacks couldn’t move the football on the ground throughout the game.
"You’ve got to affect the quarterback," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "Sacking them affects them. But hitting them all the time and making him move his feet because you move the pocket affects them too."
Arkansas’ was held to its lowest yardage total in four games against Alabama. It also was the lowest since a 191-yard effort at Texas in 2008.
"I think it has something to do with coach Saban and his staff and the personnel they have," Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said about the shortcomings. "But I can’t quite answer it because we have a veteran team. Most of our kids are veterans. They understand what it takes to go into this type of environment and win — your attention to detail has to be at an all-time high.
"We just didn’t have it for whatever reason."
While the offense sputtered, Arkansas held up as much as possible defensively despite playing without defensive end Jake Bequette. To complicate matters, the Razorbacks also lost three starters (defensive end Tenarius Wright, cornerback Isaac Madison and safety Tramain Thomas) in the game.
"It was just crazy," said defensive end Chris Smith, who started in Bequette’s place. "But when it happens like that, other guys have to step up."
Arkansas’ defensive highlight was a goal-line stand in the first half. Alabama ran three plays from the one-yard line with a chance to take a 14-7 lead, but couldn’t crack the end zone. The Tide settled for a field goal and a 10-7 lead instead.
It was then that Wilson made his biggest mistake of the game, misfiring on a slant pass to receiver Greg Childs. The ball landed in the hands of Alabama cornerback DeQuan Menzie, who returned it 25 yards for a touchdown and a 17-7 lead.
"I threw a crucial pick," Wilson said. "Obviously you don’t want that to happen. Throw it away if it’s not there. We punt, establish good field position and go into half at 10-7. That’s really where I thought the game should be at that point."
Saban said: "That was a big turning point in the game from a momentum standpoint."
Then the game unraveled for Arkansas in the third quarter, when Alabama turned in two big plays.
The first came when Alabama receiver Marquis Maze winded through Arkansas’ coverage team for an 83-yard punt return touchdown. A few minutes later, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron connected with Richardson on 61-yard screen pass for a score.
Alabama’s lead quickly ballooned to 31-7.
"We didn’t play well coming out in the third quarter," defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said. "The thing about it is, you can’t get down.
"We’ve got to hold the rope for each other and then all of a sudden, when it’s our responsibility and our turn, we’ve got to respond and not give up a 60-yard drive right off the get-go on your first series. You can’t do that."
Richardson finished with 201 total yards (126 rushing, 85 receiving) and the touchdown, nearly outgaining Arkansas (226 yards) himself. McCarron, in his first SEC start, completed 15 of 20 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns.
The duo helped Alabama improve to 23-1 at home dating back to 2008. The Crimson Tide also won an SEC opener for the 20th straight season.
Arkansas, meanwhile, headed back to Fayetteville looking for answers with another test against Texas A&M looming next Saturday.
"There’s a lot of fight on this football team," Robinson said. "That hurt, I mean they’re hurt, and they’ve fought every time they have been. So this isn’t something that’s new.
"They’ll have another opportunity, and they’ll play harder again next week."