HOGS: reaction after Bama loss
FAYETTEVILLE - No. 2 Alabama wrought a Heisman Trophy worthy performance from quarterback Bryce Young and needed every bit of it Saturday to fend off No. 21 Arkansas 42-35 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.
Without an interception, Young completed 31 of 40 passes for 559 yards and five touchdowns. The sophomore QB and Heisman candidate completed eight passes for 190 yards and three TDs to Biletnikoff semifinalist receiver Jameson Williams and 10 balls for 173 yards and a TD to receiver John Metchie.
Alabama improved to 10-1 overall, 6-1 in the SEC. Coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide clinched the SEC West title and a Dec. 4 SEC Championship game in Atlanta against No. 1 and SEC East champion Georgia. Alabama plays Auburn in its regular-season finale.
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson completed 22 of 30 passes for 326 yards and three TDs without an interception. Junior receiver Treylon Burks caught eight passes for 179 yards and two TDs, one for 66 yards.
The Razorbacks, a bowl bound 7-4, 3-4, play host to Missouri into Friday’s finale at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Arkansas went 0-8, 0-8 in the SEC in 2018 and 2019 under Pittman’s predecessor, Chad Morris, and last year finished 3-7 in an entirely SEC season. Alabama beat Arkansas 52-3 a year ago.
Alabama’s 15th consecutive win over Arkansas Saturday was no drubbing.
The Hogs were a bouncing-out-of-bounds onside kick away from assembling one last upset chance after Jefferson finished a fourth 75-yard scoring drive with a 17-yard TD pass to running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders with 1:02 left in the game.
“We play to win, and we felt like we could come here and win,” Pittman said. “We did not come here to lose by seven. I think you could see by the way we played. We just ran into a team that was seven points better than us tonight.”
Sixth-year senior linebacker Grant Morgan concurred.
“I think there was 70 guys (the Razorbacks travel squad) who believed we could win the game today,” Morgan said. “It sucks because we all came here to win. We’re not into moral victories, but at the end of the day, that’s a really good ballclub.”
Since a 37-0 loss at No. 1 Georgia cooled a 4-0 start, Pittman’s Hogs have won three of four gams vs. ranked teams and pushed Alabama.
“I’m proud of our football team, and that’s what I told them,” Pittman said. “We had a chance to win the ballgame and matched the physicality that Alabama is known for. I just told them, ‘The days of getting our teeth kicked in are over.'”
It’s what Saban said he anticipated.
“I knew they had a good team and I knew it was going to be a tough game,” Saban said. “I’m proud of our players for the way they played and the way they finished.”
Even the Razorbacks had pride for how Bryce Young played against them.
“Says right here he passed for 559 yards,” Pittman said. "I’d say he's pretty darn good. Looked like (Kansas City Chiefs All-Pro quarterback Patrick) Mahomes sometimes out there. He should be in the Heisman talk.”
Morgan said Young exudes the team leadership he’s seen from great Alabama QBs he’s played against: Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones, all NFL starters.
“You could tell he has a good head on his shoulders, so I hope he wins the Heisman,” Morgan said. “He’s really good. We didn’t do enough to stop him, but he’s a really good player.
A great cast made Williams “look even better,” Pittman said. It included Metchie, running back Brian Robinson (27 carries for 122 yards) and an offensive line that mostly protected their elusive QB, though the Hogs logged four sacks.
Morgan matched Alabama linebacker/Butkus Award finalist Will Anderson with a game-leading 11 tackles and two QB hurries.
Anderson made his mark, but Burks, excelling despite injured early in the game, and Jefferson made theirs.
“As a character and a player, I thought KJ was outstanding,” Pittman said. “He’s just a tough guy and I’m glad he’s our quarterback.
“I think Burks is probably beat up, but he just kept coming back. He won a lot of one-on-one matchups tonight. He’s a tough, great player, but a better person. He had a heck of a game tonight."
The game with 77 points began with defense. Alabama forced a first possession Arkansas punt, then Arkansas gang-tackled Robinson on a fourth-and-1 from Arkansas’ 30.
Arkansas’ lone turnover, a premature shotgun snap fumbled by a surprised Jefferson when center Ricky Stromberg thought he had heard the signal clap, immediately ceased that momentum.
But the defense held Alabama to a Will Reichard’s 48-yard field goal. Reichard would kick another from 30 during the third quarter and would miss from 47 after linebacker Hayden Henry’s sack dumped Young for minus 13.
The first quarter ended just 3-0 but was 10-0 six seconds into the second quarter. Young’s 20-yard TD to Metchie capped a 98-yard drive after Reid Bauer punted the Tide back to its 2.
Bauer not only punted effectively, but as the holder on a fake field goal completed a 32-yard TD pass to tight end Blake Kern bringing Arkansas within 34-28 with 11:11 left in the game.
Before Bauer pulled off his second fake in as many weeks, Jefferson capped a 94-yard drive with a 15-yard TD to Burks.
Young and Jameson Williams countered with a 79-yard TD for a 17-7 lead. Arkansas narrowed to 17-14 on running back Dominique Johnson’s 1-yard plunge after Jefferson's 40-yard pass to Warren Thompson was reviewed and downed at the 1.
Young and Jameson Williams again, this time a 32-yard TD, had the Tide rolling 24-14 at half.
Arkansas cornerback Montaric Brown, with a ball-stripping tackle and fumble recovery at the Arkansas 1, deprived Alabama of one drive that seemed destined to score.
Still, the Tide up 31-14 in the third quarter, seemed rolling toward a familiar rout before these Hogs rallied.