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September 27, 2009

Upon Further Review: Arkansas at Alabama

Perhaps the most overlooked play, but crucial to the University of Alabama's 35-7 victory against Arkansas on Saturday, was technically not a play at all.

It came when the Crimson Tide had first down at its own 1-yard line and junior quarterback Greg McElroy changed the inflection of his cadence to draw the Razorbacks offside.

"The goal there is just to get a first down" McElroy said.

Instead, the veteran move by someone making just his fourth start led to a 99-yard touchdown drive to essentially put the game away.

Here are this week's awards:

Player of the game: It should be the entire defense, but we'll give it to McElroy. He completed 17 of 24 attempts for 291 yards with three touchdowns and no turnovers to easily outperform Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, the statistical leader in most Southeastern Conference passing categories.

Play of the game: While both the wildcat pass and sophomore receiver Marquis Maze's 80-yard touchdown were game-changing plays, true freshman running back Trent Richardson's 52-yard touchdown in which he broke four tackles (combined weight 910 pounds) sparked the Alabama offense to a five-touchdown day. At that point, Alabama had 10 carries for 34 rushing yards.

Statistic of the game: McElroy didn't have an incomplete pass in the second half, with the only two non-catches both resulting in pass-interference penalties on Arkansas. Alabama's last incompletion came with 1:32 remaining in the second quarter, on the sideline attempt to senior Mike McCoy in which the pass led him out-of-bounds. McElroy completed his final 10 attempts, and with five more at Kentucky will break his own school record of 14 consecutive completions.

Hit of the game: Give honorable mention to senior Terrence Cody for his block on sophomore running back Mark Ingram's 2-yard touchdown, and Richardson for dropping his shoulder on cornerback Andru Stewart, but it's sophomore safety Robby Green drilling receiver Greg Childs to knock the ball out for a first-half incompletion.

Did you notice? On sophomore receiver Julio Jones' final reception, for 15 yards, all 11 Arkansas defenders were in on the tackle.

Some bonus numbers:
27: The combined total of sacks (three), tackles for a loss (eight), pass break-ups (eight), and quarterback pressures (eight). Talk about affecting the quarterback.

4.57: The average yards per pass attempt for Mallett, who coming into the game led the nation in passer efficiency, and averaged 358.8 yards per game and 10.68 yards per attempt. He completed just 12 of 35 attempts, with the longest play just 25 yards.

4: The number of categories Alabama ranks in the top 10 nationally. The Tide is fifth in passing efficiency (169.03), eighth in total offense (490.5), ninth in scoring (40.5), and 10th in rushing (234.25).

Here are 10 other things you might not have noticed from Saturday's game:

1. McElroy's day: Of the seven incompletions, three were dropped, two he just missed on, one was thrown away and a pass was nearly picked off. He was 6 of 9 on third downs, five for first downs, and was 2-for-2 in the red zone. He sustained the hip-pointer on Ingram's 14-yard touchdown on a hit from junior linebacker Freddy Burton, got drilled by linebacker Jerry Franklin on the deep attempt to McCoy that resulted in a pass-interference penalty, and should have drawn a roughing-the-passer penalty (against end Jake Bequette) on his final completion, a screen pass to junior running back Terry Grant. You had to like his 5-yard run for a first down after the five-wide set extended the defense, and Tide receivers had a season-best 190 yards after the catch.

2. The running men: Arkansas stacked the box and was not going to let Alabama beat it with the run, which made Richardson's touchdown all that more remarkable. The Tide averaged 3.3 yards per carry, but just 2.05 without the 52-yard touchdown. However, Alabama turned down golden opportunities to pad the stats and kept running long after the outcome had been decided, including on fourth-and-16 on the Arkansas 19 with 4:48 remaining, and didn't keep throwing against single-man coverage. Alabama hit all of the holes, going a little more right than left, but Arkansas ran almost exclusively around the left end or up the middle for 63 yards on 26 carries.

3. Dont'a Hightower's injury: The sophomore linebacker made two tackles (including a nasty tone-setting combined hit with junior linebacker Rolando McClain) before sustaining the knee injury late in the first quarter on a short carry by Arkansas running back Michael Smith when he took a low block from pulling senior guard Mitch Petrus. Yes, it was a legal block.

4. The 99-yard drive: Obviously it's the Tide's longest scoring drive the season in terms of yards, beating the 95-yard possession to open the scoring against North Texas. At 6 minutes, 28 seconds, it was also the longest in terms of time, and the 13 plays tied for the most (opening scoring drives against Florida International, although that resulted in a 23-yard field goal, and North Texas). McElroy completed only three passes on the drive, and didn't see wide open Jones on the 32-yard completion to junior receiver Darius Hanks, but was aided by two pass-interference calls.

5. New twists: Passing out of the wildcat was obviously new, and caught Arkansas completely by surprise, but Alabama also had a new look on fourth-and-1 with three tight ends in the backfield (Colin Peek, Preston Dial and Baron Huber), who all shifted to the right side. However, junior left tackle James Carpenter flinched prior to the snap for a false-start penalty.

6. Third downs: Alabama was 6 of 15, while Arkansas went 2 for 14. Even more telling was on average the Razorbacks were facing third-and 12.3, while the Tide average was third-and-7.2. The only time Arkansas faced third down and less than five yards was third-and-1 at midfield in the third quarter when senior linebacker Eryk Anders knocked the ball away from D.J. Williams. The subsequent play was senior end Lorenzo Washington's blocked punt when he was playing the containment in case Dylan Breeding attempted another rugby-style kick. On three of Alabama's touchdown "drives" it didn't convert a third down because it never got to third down. Ingram's touchdown reception was on third-and-5.

7. The targets: Arkansas threw at junior cornerback Marquis Johnson five times with only senior safety Justin Woodall's interception to show for it. It also threw at sophomore safety Mark Barron four times without a completion and had just a pass-interference call against senior cornerback Javier Arenas. Junior Kareem Jackson was having a pretty good day until the 18-yard touchdown catch by Childs, when the cornerback obviously thought he was getting help from a safety.

8. Up in the booth: Overruling Jackson's interception was the correct call as receiver Jarius Wright knocked the ball loose, which replay clearly showed. About the only question was a deflected pass that may have been trapped for an Arkansas first down, but television cameras didn't seem to have a decent shot.

9. Special teams: The punt-coverage teams will get a close look this week after penalties nullified two returns, including one for 50 yards. Senior Cory Reamer was named twice (along with Grant once), but there were a few players who could have been called for a block to the back Saturday. Also damaging was true freshman Dre Kirkpatick hitting the return man before he caught the ball. Right there that's three of Alabama's seven penalties for 60 yards.

10. Personnel changes: Both coverage units had new looks. For example, kick coverage added Kirkpatrick with freshman Rod Woodson in different spot. However, kick coverage has the same players as last week.




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