Recruiting classes ranked two, one, one, one, and one add up to the terrific trove of talent that was too much for Arkansas on Saturday night.
When outmanned, technique and try is not enough unless the underdog is on the receiving end of some big-time help and that was not the case vs. Alabama.
Desperate to identify some what-ifs in the 49-30 loss to the No. 1 team in the country, Arkansas fans can cite a fumble the Alabama defense turned into its sixth TD of the year, a fumbled kickoff that left the Crimson Tide 29 yards from the end zone, and, maybe even the first-quarter injury to linebacker and leading tackler Dre Greenlaw.
But, in fairness to the visitors, note that Alabama lost fumbles at the Arkansas 1 and 3 and freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, who was 11-of-13 for 182 yards in the first half, attempted only four passes before going to the bench in the fourth quarter.
Most noticeably, Arkansas was overmatched up front to the point that quarterback Austin Allen took a beating as bad or worse than he did two weeks ago in the 21-point loss to Texas A&M. He was sacked six times and harassed unmercifully by a defense that includes four players projected by NFLDraftScout.com to be first-round picks.
Allen’s streak without an interception ended at 146 when guard Hjalte Froholdt missed badly on Dalvin Tomlinson and Allen couldn’t get enough on the ball to throw it out of bounds at the Arkansas 17. A too-easy TD pass from Hurts to Calvin Ridley completed the possession and upped the lead to 42-17.
The biggest plus for Arkansas was the willingness to compete when trailing by 25 on three occasions — an attitude epitomized by the Razorbacks’ gutsy junior quarterback and the sort of thing that can pay dividends in the weeks to come when the talent on both teams is close to equal.
After the A&M game, Bielema said, “We took the field in the fourth quarter in a poor demeanor. We didn’t make the effort.”
Not so against Alabama. In fact, Allen was still chunking in the fourth quarter, throwing his third touchdown pass with less than four minutes to play.
Even before Greenlaw left the game, there was no indication that Arkansas could stop Alabama.
Grabbing instead of tackling played a part in at least one early Alabama touchdown and the defense surrendered containment on Alabama’s fifth TD after Bielema’s on-field argument about a questionable holding call earned a 15-yard penalty and provided the Crimson Tide with a short field. After halftime, Bielema explained to an ESPN sideline reporter that the official who called holding on the tackle is supposed to watch guard to guard.
The holding call wiped out Allen’s touchdown pass to Drew Morgan and forced Arkansas to settle for a field goal and 28-10.
A fumble ended Alabama’s first possession, but there was no messing around next time. Tight end O.J. Howard entertained middle linebacker Brooks Ellis, Damien Harris destroyed Henre Tolliver, and Hurts walked into the end zone. On the kickoff, Hootie Jones ripped the ball away from Deon Stewart in textbook style and Alabama recovered at the Arkansas 29.
Super-cool for a first-year player, Hurts completed a third-down pass and then refused to force a first-down throw, dumping the ball to Harris for four yards. From the 6, Hurts’ second touchdown occurred on an old-fashioned quarterback sweep.
At that point, Arkansas had one possession for 16 yards and Alabama had three possessions for 182 yards and 14-0.
Early in the week, Bielema told his players that to be competitive, they only had to do their job, that they didn’t “need an extraordinary, out-of-body experience.”
Attempting to keep the players from trying to do too much, his spiel was justified. In retrospect, there’s nothing he could have said and little the players could have done to alter the outcome.
Harry King is sports columnist for GateHouse Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.