The Arkansas Razorbacks are an incomplete team in 2016, and it was on full display Saturday night, as the Alabama Crimson Tide won in Fayetteville, 49-30.
The positive from the game was the play of the Hogs’ quarterback and receivers. Austin Allen had a mixed night — he took a beating and turned the ball over several times, but he provided nearly all of his team’s counterpunches. He managed to throw for about eight yards per pass while spreading the ball to nine different targets. He did this while too often scrambling for his life, sometimes even turning those plays into positive gains. Unfortunately for his cause, he threw to Minkah Fitzpatrick three times.
On the flip side, one of the Hogs’ biggest deficiencies is their porous run defense. They allowed 6.4 yards per carry (not including sacks as rushes) heading into the game, the most in the SEC by nearly a full yard over the second-worst rush defense, South Carolina. Bama had runs of more than 50 yards on both of its first two drives, and three of its running backs averaged over 11 yards per carry at the half. Only Joshua Jacobs finished above that mark—because he went out injured early and didn’t return—but Damien Harris went for 9.4 per rush on 13 carries and Bo Scarbrough registered eight per carry on seven attempts.
The Razorback offensive line has been a liability in 2016 after losing key players and line coach Sam Pittman in the offseason. It was already allowing the highest sacks-per-game rate of Bret Bielema’s tenure, and it has presided over the worst sack-free yards-per-carry rate of Bielema’s time as well. Saturday it more or less let Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson through the line whenever they wanted to get after Allen, and the Razorback signal caller took six sacks. The line seemed particularly troubled by Alabama sending speed rushers into the A-gaps, with those attackers usually getting several yards into the backfield before someone, if anyone, touched them.
If being unable to stop the run or contain the pass rush wasn’t enough, Arkansas was far too generous. It turned the ball over five times, and no one beats Alabama when giving the ball up that many times.
The Razorbacks aren’t built to come back from deficits, and Deon Stewart fumbled the kickoff after the Tide’s first touchdown. Given a short field of just 29 yards, Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts cashed in with three runs and two passes that put his team in the end zone again.
Once the Razorbacks fell behind by two scores in the first ten minutes, it felt like it would be an impossible climb for them to fully get back in the game. Allen led a scoring drive right after to cut the 14-point lead in half, but two drives later Da’Shawn Hand knocked the ball loose while sacking Allen and Tim Williams returned it for a score. The rattled Hogs went three-and-out after that, and Bama then went 81 yards in four plays for a touchdown. It was basically game over from there: 28-7, Tide.
The Arkansas team, to its credit, never quit. The crowd stayed in the game well into the second half too, hoping for some kind of run to allow them to erupt. They were ready as the Razorbacks engineered a 15-play drive spanning the end of the third and beginning of the fourth that could’ve cut the Tide’s lead to 11. Instead, that drive finished with Fitzpatrick returning an end zone interception 100 yards the other way for a touchdown. That play put the game away and kept the audience from inspiring a comeback.
Arkansas just doesn’t have the players to compete with Alabama on a night when the Crimson Tide is on. To be sure, it wasn’t the sharpest game from Nick Saban’s bunch, which fumbled twice inside the Razorback 15. However, Hurts had a game in which he didn’t look like a freshman, and the Tide’s unfairly talented guys — Williams, Fitzpatrick, Harris, and ArDarius Stewart — made timely play after timely play to never allow the game to truly be in doubt in the second half.
There are things from this contest Bielema can build on, but the best thing to do is to put this game behind the team soon. No one else on the schedule has the athletes Alabama does at every position, and that disparity won out even as the Razorbacks equaled—if not exceeded—the Tide’s passion and effort.
Alabama just does this to teams a few times a year, and this time it was Arkansas’s turn.