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September 26, 2009TUCSALOOSA _ Usually when the University of Alabama plays Arkansas in an early-season benchmark game of the Southeastern Conference's Western Division, most fans conjure up images of big linemen, hard hits and a day worthy of the words "pig suey."
That's usually. Saturday wasn't quite like that at Bryant-Denny Stadium, where the No. 3 Crimson Tide was clearly thinking showdown and able to back it.
While Arkansas had a Mallett named Ryan, Alabama essentially brought a sledgehammer to pound out a 35-7 victory.
"That was a good football team we played out there today, very good offensive team," Coach Nick Saban said. "I was really pleased with the defensive effort out there today. To hold those guys to seven points is really good and it was a team effort."
Although much was made of the 6-foot-7 sophomore quarterback and his cannon arm, which was thought to be the only way Arkansas could pull off the upset, the Crimson Tide (4-0 overall, 1-0 SEC) played as if it had been personally insulted.
Actually, in a way it had.
"We have a group of wide receivers and running backs who are as explosive as any group in the country, and we feel very strongly about that and their ability to make plays," said junior quarterback Greg McElroy, who completed 17 of 24 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns without any interceptions. "I stood up at the end of our meeting last night after watching film and said, 'You know what, I'm sick and tired of hearing about how Arkansas has such an explosive offense. We can be those guys too.'
"It's one of those things, we went into the game with a chip on our shoulder and guys made plays."
So did the defense, which treated Mallett, a transfer from Michigan who was making his first SEC road start, as if he had a lot of nerve even showing up. From the first series, when sophomore end Marcell Dareus almost probably made his eyes bug out, the quarterback was on the move as the Razorbacks converted only two of 14 third-down opportunities. The final tally was three sacks, eight tackles for a loss and eight pressures, while he was 12-for-35 with one touchdown and an interception.
Overall, the Razorbacks averaged just 3.8 yards per play, while Alabama was more aggressive and explosive on both sides of the ball.
"That's what we're trying to make our identity, especially on defense, especially up front, to always be the more physical team, to out-physical whomever we play, so they don't ever want to come back and play us," said senior defensive end Lorenzo Washington, who blocked a punt. "Every day in practice, Tuesday, Wednesday, we put great emphasis on being physical in practice. Practice translates to games."
After a lackluster scoreless first quarter in which the Tide had three dropped passes, the offense finally started clicking in the second quarter when true freshman running back Trent Richardson turned what should have been a short loss into six points.
On second-and-5 at the Tide 48, Arkansas called a run-blitz which Richardson ran right into on the right side, but the true freshman broke tackles from linebacker Wendel Davis, safety Tramain Thomas, defensive end Adrian Davis and linebacker Jerry Franklin, found the sideline and just kept on going.
"That kicked things off for us," sophomore running back Mark Ingram said.
If that wasn't disheartening enough for the Razorbacks (1-2, 0-2), the Tide's next offensive play was the equivalent to dropping an emotional anvil. Alabama lined up, shifted to the wildcat formation, with McElroy wide alongside sophomore Julio Jones and then pulled back as of to avoid the play coming toward him.
However, it wasn't an end-around carry to junior Terry Grant as Arkansas believed, and instead of turning up field the receiver pitched the ball back to McElroy, who had Jones wide open downfield. Not only was the 50-yard score the sophomore's first reception since being sidelined by a bruised knee in the first half against Florida International, but snapped his 11-game touchdown drought.
"He was so wide open I was scared to death I was going to miss him," McElroy said.
Meanwhile, the Tide's defense remained unrelenting and unyielding, giving up 27 rushing yards and 101 passing in the first half. Although the Razorbacks had a small advantage in time of possession, their longest drive of 50 yards was aided by a fake punt and pass-interference penalty.
The Hogs' best offensive showing of the day came on their initial possession of the season half, when senior cornerback Javier Arenas, who had two sacks earlier, was picked up on a blitz which combined with blown coverage resulted in 25-yard gain to set up Greg Childs' 18-yard touchdown.
Only Alabama answered in a big way. On first-and-10 from the Alabama 20, sophomore Marquis Maze faked a cut-off route and when junior cornerback Rudell Crim bit the sophomore streaked down the sideline for an 80-yard score.
"I was just happy I made it, and it came at the right time," Maze said. "It blew the game open."
That was followed by Washington's punt block to set up a 14-yard touchdown reception by Ingram, and a 99-yard touchdown drive that made most of the fourth quarter irrelevant.
The only setbacks along the way were sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower likely being out for the season with a knee injury, and Arkansas' run-focused defense limiting the Tide to 134 yards on 41 carries.
"My message to the team was, 'If you haven't sold out to the team yet, what are you waiting for?' Saban said, later adding, "It was a great team win."