The Razorbacks led this game 7-3 for essentially a quarter, almost the entire third quarter, and despite every rational bone in your body that told you seven points would not be nearly enough to win this game, Arkansas' defense had me believing for a while they might be able to pull it off.
Alabama's talent and depth advantage was well evident throughout, but like a scrappy baseball team trying to manufacture runs to stay alive, Arkansas cruelly teased a positive outcome. It was kind of like thinking, "Arkansas really can pull off this 12 minute drive to beat A&M" a couple of weeks ago after the Hogs picked up the first few first downs, but like the concept of that drive, the Razorbacks weren't quite capable of holding them down.
The defense deserves a ton of credit. Alabama missed a pair of field goals in the first half and only had three points at halftime, only 10 points after three quarters. The Tide averaged just 2.9 yards per carry and the Hogs had eight tackles for loss. That gave Arkansas a chance.
But everything changed in the third quarter. The momentum started to swing when Arkansas elected not to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Alabama 46-yard line. Bielema said afterward he wasn't confident the Hogs would get it because of the difficulty Arkansas had running the ball throughout the game. Arkansas only averaged 1.8 yards per carry throughout. Also, Arkansas tried to go for a 4th-and-one conversion in the fourth quarter last year in Fayetteville but came up short.
Alabama finally took back the lead on an 81-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley a few drives later, and with momentum squarely gone, Bielema chose to fake a punt on 4th-and-five at the Arkansas 41-yard line. It failed. Alabama scored on their next drive with the short field and the game was essentially over now that the Tide were up two scores.
I'll say this: I don't understand not going for the 4th-and-1 in Alabama territory but trying the fake punt in Arkansas territory. I understand the Hogs were leading for the former and trailing for the latter, but again, when being rational, did anyone think seven points would be enough to win this game? Even in the third quarter, did anyone truly believe that?
Bielema is correct in noting that Alabama had been stuffing Arkansas all night on the ground, but a fourth down play doesn't necessarily have to be on the ground. Hog fans have seen pass plays on 4th-and-short work really well in the past. Or, even try faking a punt there. Both the fake punt against Alabama and the fake field goal against Tennessee gained yardage, just not enough for the first down.
There were options, is what I'm saying.
I'm not complaining about fake punts and field goals as a stand-alone attempt. I understand they're always "genius if you make it, idiot if you don't" ideas. But I don't understand them in context of plays surrounding them.
I also don't understand opening the game with a 5-wide set, picking up a 15-yard first down on the first play, and then never returning to it. I know that's not Arkansas' identity, but to beat Alabama, like last year, the Hogs were going to have to hit some big plays and they were unlikely to come on the ground. I'm not suggesting Arkansas should have done that for every play, but it did work that one time they tried.
This is the first time I truly felt like all the offensive injuries seriously hampered Arkansas. The Hogs' only points came off an interception that let them start in the red zone and a big play to Dominique Reed in garbage time. It takes an explosive offense to put points on the board against Alabama. Coming into the game, Arkansas had been remarkably efficient, but not very explosive, and against a defense like Alabama's, they needed more explosion. They might still have lost if Jonathan Williams, Keon Hatcher, and Jared Cornelius had been playing, but I bet they'd have had more chances.
The game overall wasn't very surprising. I expected Arkansas to make a great effort after coming so close last year and because so many key players have played in Bryant-Denny before, so they shouldn't have been intimidated like the previous few Arkansas teams to go through Tuscaloosa, and they weren't. I think it speaks well for what could come in the second half of the season.
While it would have helped, Arkansas didn't need to win this game to become bowl eligible. It's obviously frustrating to lose, especially when you have a chance of pulling off a major upset against a team the Hogs will have lost to for a solid decade by the time the Tide visit Fayetteville next year, but in the big picture, I'm not nearly as concerned about the team's ability to get up and move on as I was after Texas A&M or Texas Tech.
The team gets a bye week, which is great because they were taking a lot of chair shots on that field Saturday night, and then they finally get the big home game against Auburn two weeks from now. It will have been a month since they last played in Fayetteville. And after five games in five different stadiums, it should feel good to come home.