A quick weekend of murderball in the mountains for Alabama football | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
Tidesports.com

What Arkansas chose to give on Saturday, No. 1 Alabama was happy to receive.

The calculated risk the Razorbacks had to take prior to their 52-3 loss to the Crimson Tide was whether they would give up yardage in huge gulps or make Alabama take smaller bites, perhaps even have to mix in a few Brussels sprouts or a few yams instead of a constant barrage of triple over-the-top cheeseburgers with jalapeños. 

The Razorbacks ordered murderball. Alabama hadn’t forgotten the recipe. 

Grades:A look at Alabama football's performance in its 52-3 road win over Arkansas

Arkansas protected against a barrage of big plays by sometimes double-covering DeVonta Smith as much as possible, keeping the safeties back, dropping linebackers and generally rushing Mac Jones with no more than three defenders.

“They played a lot of 33-cloud, which we expected,” coach Nick Saban said. “They dropped eight guys. I thought Mac handled it well. He didn’t force anything. He made one bad decision (on an apparent interception in the end zone that was erased by a penalty).”

Alabama running back Najee Harris (22) runs through a hole opened by Alabama wide receiver Drew Kobayashi (85) at Arkansas Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. [Photo by Kent Gidley, University of Alabama]

On a couple of the rare first-half blitzes, Jones made the correct read and hit slants to John Metchie III. But for the most part, Jones was content to hand off or dink-and-dunk his way down the field. Be honest: did you have Miller Forristall (with six) as the winner in the most-catches pool?

The one dash of savory spice on the full platter of joyless murderball did come from Smith. His 84-yard punt return was both dazzling and well-designed, so special teams coordinator Jeff Banks deserves a nod of appreciation from UA fans. For a fair-sized chunk of America, that highlight will be all they see of Alabama-Arkansas and it will be enough to keep Smith’s name current in certain trophy-centric conversations.

So was it all worth it, hauling a team to the Ozarks, playing on grass that will soon give up its last bit of chlorophyll to the winter? That might depend on how Christian Harris recovers from a shoulder injury. You could sense his absence against Arkansas, and  you will be able to sense it a lot more if he’s not around against Kyle Trask and Kyle Pitts in Atlanta.

After halftime, Saban started pulling starters. Neither Smith nor Najee Harris played in the second half because winning three more games is now of far more importance to Saban (and sensible Alabama fans) than any individual statistics. 

There was a quirky 2020-induced achievement on Saturday. Alabama became the first and only SEC team ever to win 10 league games in a single season. That makes sense in the same way that Alabama winning the first SEC Championship Game in 1992 or extending its appearance streak in the AP Top 25 to 210 games, surpassing the longest SEC streak (Florida from 1990-2002) as soon as the poll is announced Sunday. If someone in the SEC has achieved something, odds are it is Alabama. 

Winning championships is the real measure. The last half of the season has had no drama, or at least no more than dodging the coronavirus creates. It has been six weeks of plowing to prepare the field for the postseason. As good as Alabama has been, 2020 has created more appreciation than excitement. 

That changes now.

“We’re going to be challenged in a different way now,” Saban said. 

Whether 2020 football was an exercise in stubborn commitment to play with little sunshine or whether it enters the all-time Alabama annals can be debated. But the debate begins in earnest in Atlanta. 

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt

Cecil Hurt