FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Maybe it was because Arkansas had scored with six minutes to go in the second quarter to cut Alabama’s lead to 14 points to mark just the second time the top-ranked Crimson Tide had led by as little as two scores that late in a game this season.
Maybe it was time to let someone other than Tua Tagovailoa have some fun.
Or maybe it was just time to get nasty.
Whatever the reason, Alabama came out to establish a physical run game at that point of its 65-31 victory over Arkansas on Saturday.
Damien Harris had runs of 7, 11, 16 and 6 yards in succession. Tagovailoa then hit a couple of passes for 30 more yards, and Harris crashed into the end zone for a 2-yard score.
Alabama did it again on its first possession of the third quarter, with Harris ripping off runs of 18 and 19 yards to start things off and finally going over the top for a 1-yard touchdown drive to cap the scoring march.
It was Alabama – the nation’s most feared passing team with the country’s most feared quarterback – getting back to basics. It also ground out a final 72-yard drive with its running game punctuated by a 5-yard touchdown run by Brian Robinson Jr. for emphasis.
“People have questioned our running game a lot this year and that’s something that we are very adamant about, trying to prove we can move the ball effectively run or pass,” tight end Hale Hentges said. “Obviously we’ve got a great passing game … but as for the tight ends and offensive line, it’s important for us to be able to move the ball up front. That’s something we tried to emphasize this game.”
Harris ran for a season-high 111 yards on 15 carries with two touchdown runs. UA netted 246 rushing yards on 41 carries.
“I’m still a running back, now,” he said. “Even though we’re playing pretty well on offense, we still love to run the ball.”
Harris got his second score on the fourth-down dive where he was able to barely thrust the ball over the goal line. At first, the ruling on the field was that he had been stopped short. He said he knew otherwise.
“One hundred percent, there is no doubt in my mind,” he said. “I made sure I stood on the field a little long and I was kind of looking around at the ref just like, ‘Y’all are going to review that, right?’ Because I knew that I was in, so I just wanted to kind of give them a little extra, ‘Maybe you should look at that.’”
They did, and the replay confirmed it.
Said tackle Jonah Williams of the physical approach, “That’s old-school stuff.”
Stuff is exactly what Alabama did on those drives: stuff it down Arkansas’ throat.
“If we want to air it out and sit back and throw it we want to be able to do that, and if we want to just drive it down their throat that’s something we want to be able to do also,” Williams said. “That’s one of the things we wanted to do early just to establish our identity.”
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.