Alabama 52, Arkansas 3: What we learned from Crimson Tide’s regular-season football finale

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

The Crimson Tide scored four touchdowns in 9 minutes and 53 seconds of game time, a stretch from the final minutes of the first quarter to just past the halfway point of the second quarter, burying Arkansas as it went to a 52-3 win.

Here are three things we learned from Alabama’s win at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Jaylen Moody has shot up the depth chart

Last season, Jaylen Moody was Alabama’s sixth linebacker at best. Dylan Moses and Joshua McMillon would’ve started if not for injuries, so UA turned to Shane Lee and Christian Harris. Markail Benton was a situational participant at linebacker, and Ale Kaho was often the first linebacker off the bench, all of them ahead of Moody.

Alabama linebacker Jaylen Moody (42) celebrates at Arkansas Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. [Photo by Kent Gidley, University of Alabama]

One year later, when a starter at the position goes down, Moody was the first player on the field.

Harris’ shoulder injury suffered on Arkansas’ first possession gave Moody an opportunity to play the starter role for over two quarters, producing six tackles, 1/2 a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the process.

“I don’t know exactly how bad it is yet,” UA coach Nick Saban said. He was told there would be a MRI soon that would help determine his status for next week’s SEC Championship Game against Florida.

While Harris’ status for next week’s game in Atlanta remains unknown, UA knows, if needed, it has developed the three-star prospect from Conway, South Carolina, into a useful linebacker.

DeVonta Smith isn’t UA’s only pass-catcher

DeVonta Smith has been responsible for 70.5% of Alabama’s receiving yards over its previous four games, but Saturday showed that was not out of necessity.

Against Arkansas, John Metchie III had 72 receiving yards, his first time over 60 yards in four games. Tight end Miller Forristall set two career highs with six catches for 52 yards, and Slade Bolden had more receiving yards (43) than he had in the three previous games combined, all while Smith had three meager catches for 22 yards, breaking a 15-game streak with at least 50 receiving yards per game.

“(Quarterback) Mac (Jones) handled it really well, he didn’t force the ball,” Saban said. “They played soft, you have to throw three-level patterns against them, they dropped back and we had to throw underneath. I just think it’s hard to make vertical plays in the pass game when a team plays you like that.”

UA’s final opponents will be heavily enticed to scheme their coverages for the purpose of making life hard on Smith. If they do, UA showed it has other threats capable of handling the job.

Alabama can handle multiple quarterbacks

While Florida doesn’t have an elite rushing attack, it does have a backup quarterback, Emery Jones, who is used as a running specialist in certain packages, especially near the goal line.

Arkansas presented Alabama with something similar, as starter Feleipe Franks was working back from an injury that forced KJ Jefferson to play most of the previous week’s game against Missouri. The Razorbacks did not abandon Jefferson completely, using him as a rushing threat behind Franks. Alabama corralled him for 11 yards on six carries, forcing a fumble on his final carry.

“I feel like, as a defense, we’re motivated. We’ve just been motivated all year long,” defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis. “We’ve been pushing ourselves, sticking together up front and also in the secondary, holding everybody together. As long as we can play together, good things will happen.”

Running quarterbacks are not something UA has seen a lot of this year — it had faced just three quarterbacks who average more than seven carries per game entering Saturday — making a successful outing against one a good sign going into its first postseason game, where it will likely see a quarterback used almost exclusively to operate a run game.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson