TUSCALOOSA, Ala -- The defense did its job and the offense discovered its full potential as Alabama beat Arkansas 52-0 on Saturday.
The now 7-0 and still No. 1 Crimson Tide showed a distinct balance on offense, an opportunistic streak on special teams—forcing a fumble and blocking a field goal—and an uncanny ability to prevent their opponents from even crossing midfield on defense. Which, unsurprisingly, still doesn’t satisfy Alabama’s head coach Nick Saban.
“I’m really pleased with the progress that we made. I think it’s important that our team continue to focus on improving,” Saban said. “I still don’t think we’ve played our best game. I think we’ve got to continue to improve.”
With the change of coach, quarterback and overall football culture, Arkansas is clearly a work in progress: This is their fifth straight loss.
“Obviously this is getting a little old,” Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said. “Nothing that we did out there can give us any indication that the things that we need to do are that far away. It’s a long way to go.
“Alabama is a very good football team. They are very strong and deep, and you give them obviously a great advantage.”
For a team that averaged 215 rushing yards per game coming into Saturday, Alabama held Arkansas to one rushing yard in the first quarter, and held them to 165 total rushing yards for the entire game. Since 2011, Alabama has scored 111 unanswered points against Arkansas, beating the Razorbacks 52-0 for the second consecutive year. But the secret to shutting out an opponent isn’t being perfect on every down, it’s adjusting to mistakes made, according to Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley.
“We’re going to give up plays, whether it’s in the run or the pass, so we have to make sure guys are accountable for what they do and make sure we’re practicing to correct those mistakes,” Mosley said.
The defense was filled with sustained intensity and a cold, mechanical efficiency. The offense, in contrast, had repeated moments of explosiveness.
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron went 15-for-21 passing for 180 yards and three touchdown passes and wide receiver Amari Cooper had a resurgent 65 yards receiving and a touchdown reception after playing sparsely due to a toe injury. Alabama again showed its effectiveness through the run game: Running backs Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry both had over 100 yards rushing, with Drake running for two touchdowns and Henry running an 80-yard touchdown in at the end of the game. Running back T.J. Yeldon also had a very respectable 88 yards rushing with 45 yards receiving and a touchdown.
While Saturday was filled with high-profile losses in the Southeastern Conference—LSU, Texas A&M, Florida and Georgia all lost—the lone stalwart to buck the upset trend was Alabama, who is now the only undefeated team in the SEC West.
While Alabama did suffer some injuries—safety Vinnie Sunseri injured his knee and has an MRI scheduled, cornerback Bradley Sylve has a high ankle sprain—there were no penalties, no turnovers, no sacks against for an Alabama team who seems to improve with every game they play.
Arkansas is a team in the process of rebuilding, but this result is still a win over a quality SEC opponent. This is an Alabama team who didn’t start the season as a powerhouse like Saban’s teams have in the past. This team is hitting its stride at the right moment. If the injuries sustained in this game are manageable and players like Sunseri and Sylve are able to come back in a short period of time, this Alabama team could be even harder to play come November.
“It was a great effort, at the end of the day we got the job done,” Mosley said. “I trust all the guys and we trust each other and we hold each other accountable.”