Alabama’s 24-20 victory over No. 10 Arkansas wasn’t pretty. As Alabama trailed by its largest deficit since the 2008 Sugar Bowl against Utah, there was a lot for this young team to learn.
But in the end, Alabama prevailed, despite going into halftime down 17-7, despite Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett picking apart the Tide’s secondary and despite quarterback Greg McElroy’s two interceptions in the first half.
“I think that’s the great thing about this,” McElroy said. “In order to beat us, you’re going to have to kill us, and a lot of times today we shot ourselves in the foot and beat ourselves. But we were able to overcome those. I think we have a lot of confidence in ourselves.”
The first hurdle was the fact that this game was on the road. For the first time since 1979, Arkansas hosted a matchup between top-10 teams. The fans were ecstatic and loud. Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino, in his opening statement of his postgame press conference, thanked the fans for the atmosphere they provided.
“It gave us a lift during our preparation,” he said.
As far as Mallett’s ability to find the open receivers, head coach Nick Saban said there was an issue of aggressiveness in the defense in the first half.
“We were so worried about making mistakes in the first half, we played plain vanilla,” he said. “You have to try to mess with them, get them out of rhythm, get some pressure on them, and that was our game plan, and we didn’t do it in the first half.”
But in the second half, Alabama’s defense stepped up in the hostile environment full of pig sooie. Sophomore Robert Lester came up big with an interception to stop a Razorback drive, setting up Alabama’s winning touchdown.
“I was focusing on doing my job, and I was able to read the quarterback and make a good play,” Lester said.
Then with Alabama’s offense, McElroy turned his game around and kept the ball away from Arkansas’ defense. With 44 seconds left in the third quarter, McElroy found Trent Richardson for a 20-yard pass and run to put Alabama back in the game.
“I didn’t think he struggled,” Saban said. “He made the plays when he had to make them. He made a couple of bad decisions. That’s uncharacteristic of him, but he made a lot of good plays today, too. To say he struggled, I wouldn’t agree with that.”
Alabama is now 3-5 under Saban when trailing at halftime, and having to fight for the win helped the team improve more, running back Mark Ingram said.
“It’s big for a team to have a situation like that and persevere like that,” he said. “This is a great lesson for our team. It shows heart and determination, and the camaraderie we have as a team is going to be so much better that we persevered through that.”