Three times this season, the University of Alabama has scored twice in the first six minutes of the game, putting its opponents in an impossible situation in the blink of an eye.
In those three instances, it was the explosive offense led by quarterback Tua Tagovailoa making the statement early.
Against Arkansas, it was the defense that put the game away. Two first-half interceptions and a lengthy fumble return made it easy for UA’s offense, which consistently punched it in on the way to a 48-7 win over Arkansas.
Outside linebacker Terrell Lewis had six quarterback hurries, matching his season total in one game, and that season total was leading the team entering Saturday. Lewis’ pressure was a constant on Arkansas starting quarterback Nick Starkel, whose second and third interceptions were partially forced by Lewis.
The third interception was a bit of deja vu for Arkansas: an Alabama interception returned for a touchdown, which UA had not done since its last meeting against Arkansas. Shyheim Carter returned an interception for 44 yards and a touchdown in last year’s meeting, and this year cornerback Trevon Diggs returned one for 84 yards and the score.
Lewis impacted the play by spinning around Arkansas right tackle Dalton Wagner, forcing an early underthrow.
On the second interception, Lewis stunted up the middle into Starkel’s face, who had to let it go and chose the left sideline; cornerback Patrick Surtain II had positioning on his man and intercepted it, returning it 24 yards.
All told, UA had 145 defensive return yards, more than Arkansas had total yards of offense at halftime.
The other return yards came from freshman linebacker Christian Harris, when he picked up a bobbled snap and returned it 37 yards.
The turnover burst came after senior defensive back Jared Mayden said UA recently emphasized creating more turnovers. After three in both the Duke and New Mexico State games, UA dipped to two each in the South Carolina and the Southern Miss games, then one each in the Texas A&M and Tennessee games.
Even with the lesser turnovers numbers, the defense made its impact against the Aggies and Volunteers. The fumble recovery against Tennessee was returned for a touchdown. UA also broke up 10 passes against Texas A&M, so the opportunities for turnovers were plentiful.
In that instance, pass breakups stalled an offense to the point that UA could win by 19. Interceptions propelled UA to a 41-point win.