No. 2 Alabama survived a Bryce Young injury and an admirable comeback attempt to improve to 5-0 with a 49-26 win over No. 20 Arkansas (3-2) at Razorback Stadium. It was a contest that didn't look as if it would be competitive early as the Crimson Tide offense seemed to be on cruise control; however, it ended up being a game of runs as the Razorbacks scored 23 straight points before the Tide stormed back to take control in the fourth quarter.
Young, Alabama's star quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner, hooked up with Kobe Prentice for a couple big connections as Bama jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Young left with a shoulder injury in the second quarter after he fell awkwardly while being tackled by the ankles as he attempted to throw the ball away. Tide backup Jalen Milroe stepped in and immediately led two touchdown drives to push the visitors ahead 28-0.
However, Arkansas got on the board just before halftime to kick-start a furious comeback attempt in the third quarter. The Hogs scored early in the third to make it 28-14 before recovering a surprise onside kick. Alabama held Arkansas to a field goal, but on the Tide's ensuing possession, a botched snap on a punt gave the Hogs the ball back inside the 5-yard line. Arkansas quickly scored, narrowing its deficit to 28-23.
And then suddenly, the fun stopped. Milroe broke loose for a 77-yard run to set up a touchdown, and on the next drive, running back Jahmyr Gibbs took off for a 72-yard touchdown run to make it 42-23, quickly putting the game out of reach. Gibbs added a 76-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter just for good measure as he rumbled for 206 yards on the afternoon.
Even with the injury, Young finished with 173 yards passing and a touchdown along with an 8-yard rushing score. Milroe completed 4 of 9 passes for 65 yards with Alabama only throwing for 3 total yards in the second half. Still, the Tide outgained the Hogs 241-228 in the latter half to score 42+ points over their SEC West rivals for the seventh straight year.
Arkansas was led by RB Rocket Sanders, who finished with 101 yards rushing and a touchdown on 22 carries.
Here are the key takeaways from Alabama vs. Arkansas.
1. All anybody will care about is Young's status. When the second half started, Alabama listed Young as questionable to return, and he was standing on the sideline, in full uniform, with his helmet on. However, when Alabama's offense took the field, it was Milroe breaking the huddle with the team. The initial theory: As long as Alabama was in control of the game -- it led by 21 points at the time -- Young would remain on the sideline. If Arkansas made a game of it, Young would return. That went out the window when Arkansas cut its deficit to 28-23 yet Milroe remained in the game.
That should be a cause of concern for Alabama fans. If Young wasn't healthy enough to return in the second half, there's considerable reason to believe he may not be healthy next week. That's when Bama hosts a Texas A&M team that beat the Tide last season. While the Aggies offense has been dreadful -- look at the box score against Mississippi State -- their defense has remained solid. The week after, Alabama has a road game at Tennessee; not having Young available would be a massive blow considering how potent the UT offense has looked.
2. Milroe offers something Young does not. It's not that Young can't run because he can. He's not a burner, but he's fast enough. Still, due to his size, it isn't recommended that he runs around and take hits when he can easily beat teams with his arm. Milroe, however, is listed at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds. He can take hits ... if you can catch him. After watching him take off for a 77-yard run, I don't know how many players can do that.
Milroe's rushing ability opened things up for the Alabama rushing attack in the fourth quarter as he and Gibbs combined for three rushes over 70 yards. Adding a ball carrier as the 11th man makes a defense's life more difficult. The question will be what Milroe can give Alabama in the passing game going forward. If defenses don't have to respect his arm, they'll eventually adjust and slow down his rushing. Milroe was only called on to thow four times in the second half; Alabama netted 3 yards passing over the latter 30 minutes.
3. Sam Pittman made one crucial mistake. It may not have mattered in the end, but Pittman nevertheless made a puzzling decision that was tough to understand. After cutting Alabama's lead to 28-14, Pittman opted to go for an onside kick. It was a smart, aggressive move as he tried to seize on his team's confidence and catch a shaken Bama team off guard. But then, after driving downfield to set up a first-and-goal, the drive stalled.
With Arkansas facing fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line, Pittman opted to kick the field goal to make it 28-17. Yes, Arkansas had taken control of the game and he didn't want to risk coming up with nothing if his team failed to score on the fourth down, but taking three points in that spot is not advisable. Arkansas was down two scores, and the field goal still left it down two scores. What's the point of stealing an extra possession if you don't use it to give your team a greater chance of victory?
It's difficult enough to beat Alabama. Nobody knows that better than Arkansas, losers of 15 straight in the series. You certainly aren't going to beat Bama by settling for field goals in the red zone. Ultimately, it didn't matter as the dam broke in the fourth quarter and Alabama won comfortably, but it was nevertheless the wrong decision.
5. Sanders is a damn good player. That's all. I want to point it out because players on the losing team often get forgotten, but Sanders was the best player on the Razorbacks this Saturday. The play that stood out was a third-and-14 in the third quarter. Sanders was the checkdown; he caught the pass, threw Henry To'oTo'o aside, picked up the first down and kept the drive alive. It ultimately led to the touchdown that made it a 28-14 game before the onside kick. If Arkansas had been able to complete the comeback, it would've been one of the game's biggest plays.