SEC: Hogs-Tide 092609

McElroy, Tide stake claim to No. 1

September, 26, 2009
9/26/09
10:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The NFL scouts were already drooling after watching Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett zip the ball all over the field last week in a record-setting performance against Georgia.

He was the quarterback du jour nationally coming into Saturday’s game. As it turns out, he wasn’t even the best quarterback on the field.
 
 AP Photo/Dave Martin
 Greg McElroy threw three touchdown passes in Alabama's win over Arkansas.


That distinction belonged to Alabama’s Greg McElroy, whose efficiency, accuracy and leadership are a big reason the Crimson Tide can make as strong a claim as any four weeks into the season as the No. 1 team in the country.

McElroy threw for a career-high 291 yards and three touchdowns in Alabama’s 35-7 win over Arkansas, further serving notice that the Crimson Tide (4-0) can beat you any way they want.

“If they put eight or nine in the box and try to stop the run, we’ll beat them with the pass. If they put a lot of DBs out there and take some out of the box, we’ll beat them with the run,” said Alabama receiver Julio Jones, who hauled in his first touchdown of the season on a 50-yard pitch-back play to McElroy out of the Wildcat formation.

“The sky’s the limit for this team. We have so much talent, but we just have to keep getting better.”

The big difference between this offense and the one last season is how much more diverse Alabama is and how many more players it's involving in the offense.

Sophomore receiver Marquis Maze said McElroy made it known this offseason that he was going to spread the ball around, which has taken the chemistry on this team to a different level.

“Greg has faith in all of us. He’s a great quarterback,” said Maze, whose 80-yard touchdown catch was one of three scoring plays for the Crimson Tide of 50 yards or longer.

“I knew what kind of quarterback he was going to be. He’s a stand-up guy. He’s probably going to be one of the best quarterbacks to ever play here.”

Alabama coach Nick Saban said there’s no question that the Crimson Tide are more diverse this season on offense, and he likes it that way.

“I don’t think we’re the overpowering team we were a year ago in a lot of ways, and I think that’s good,” Saban said. “You involve more people in the offense. The diversity that we develop in that can make us a better offensive team if we can continue to improve. I like it that way. I like for us to be that way, and hopefully we’ll be able to do that in the future and create the balance, not necessarily in yards, but in runs and passes that will allow us to make more explosive plays.”

McElroy, who was 17-of-24 in the game, has now gone 81 pass attempts without throwing an interception. He doesn’t care what kind of label people put on him as long as Alabama is winning.

And, obviously, winning is something he does pretty well.

He’s won his last 20 starts as a quarterback, going 16-0 as a high school senior and 4-0 for the Crimson Tide this season.

“Being called efficient is the best compliment you can have, in my opinion,” McElroy said. “The more you take what they give you, the more efficient you become. That’s a tribute to your play-calling and your decision-making.”

That said, McElroy thinks Alabama’s group of playmakers can match up with anybody in the country.

“I stood up at the end of our meeting [Friday] night and said, ‘You know what? I’m sick and tired of hearing about how Arkansas has such an explosive offense,’” McElroy recounted. “We can beat those guys.

“It’s one of those things where we went into the game with a chip on our shoulder, and the guys made plays.”

There doesn’t appear to be many weaknesses in this Alabama team. The defense was already playing at a championship level, and now it’s a different guy every week breaking loose on offense.

The rock has been McElroy.

Albeit unwittingly, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino paid the Crimson Tide the ultimate compliment following Saturday’s romp when he unloaded on his team.

Petrino said the Hogs came into the game not really believing they could win.

That says something about where the Hogs are as a football team, but it says a lot more about where the Crimson Tide are.

A month into the season, they’re sitting at the top of the college football world and looking down at everybody else.video

Alabama's defense is for real ... Just ask Hogs

September, 26, 2009
9/26/09
10:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama’s defense looks the part, plays the part and sounds the part.

It’s the real thing and only going to get better.

“As a defense, we haven’t arrived yet,” Alabama sophomore defensive end Marcell Dareus said. “We still have a lot more to prove. We still have a lot more to go and a lot more to work on.
 
 Marvin Gentry/US Presswire
 The Alabama defense limited Arkansas to just 254 yards of total offense.


“We haven’t played our best defensive game.”

That’s the scary part for the rest of the SEC.

On Saturday, the Crimson Tide took Arkansas’ offense and shook it around like a rag doll in a 35-7 beatdown at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Other than a touchdown drive coming out of halftime, Arkansas never really threatened. Quarterback Ryan Mallett spent the afternoon on the run, finishing 12-of-35 for 160 yards, and the Hogs managed just 63 yards on the ground.

Keep in mind that this was the same offense that put up 41 points last week against Georgia and looked as explosive as any offense in the SEC.

“Watching our defense is something,” Alabama receiver Marquis Maze said. “I know how good those guys are. I go against them every day in practice. They’re relentless.”

Mallett and the Hogs wouldn’t argue that assessment. He was sacked three times, and Arkansas lived in third-and-long. Alabama held Arkansas to 2-of-14 on third down.

“That was our plan, to get them out of their game,” Alabama senior linebacker Eryk Anders said. “That’s our plan every week. We want to force the issue. That's what we do. We want you to remember it when somebody on our defense hits you.”

The Crimson Tide played most of the game without sophomore linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who suffered what Alabama officials fear was a season-ending injury to his left knee.

“The initial prognosis is not good,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “But we’re hopeful that it won’t be bad. We’ll know for sure [Sunday], but the initial prognosis is not good.”

If any defense can weather a loss like Hightower, it’s Alabama. Saban has recruited talent on top of talent the past few years.

“It will be tough to fill his shoes,” Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy said of the possibility that Hightower could be gone for the season. “But we have very capable players on this team.

“The depth on this team is unlike anything I’ve been around in my four years here.”

This defense ain't shabby, either.

Final: Alabama 35, Arkansas 7

September, 26, 2009
9/26/09
7:02
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- At last, Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett can quit running.

He was trying to get away from a fierce Alabama pass-rush all game, to no avail, and the surging Crimson Tide made a strong case Saturday as the No. 1 team in the country with a 35-7 beatdown of Arkansas at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The Crimson Tide (4-0) did it with several big plays on offense, a suffocating defense and a blocked punt on special teams to lead to a touchdown that put the Hogs away for good.

The only bad news for Alabama was what appeared to be a serious knee injury to sophomore linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who left the game in the first half and didn’t return. He was on the bench with crutches at the end of the game.

It was another strong performance for Alabama junior quarterback Greg McElroy, who threw for 291 yards and three touchdowns. He’s now thrown seven touchdowns and one interception in four games.

Crimson Tide steamroller

September, 26, 2009
9/26/09
6:35
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The more you watch this Alabama team play, the more you appreciate just how physical the Crimson Tide are and how they methodically wear their opponents down.

Mark Ingram walked in for an easy fourth-quarter touchdown, and just like that, Alabama leads Arkansas 35-7 in a game that looked like it might be close after Arkansas scored on its first possession of the third quarter to pull within 14-7.

But even when Alabama isn't running the ball all that well, the Tide just keep coming at you. And not only is this defense really good, but they're in fantastic shape. With Alabama scoring a pair of touchdowns on one-play drives, the defense has been on the field a lot Saturday.

You wouldn't know it, though, by the way Alabama has continued to harass Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett. Rushing the passer is the most tiring thing a defense can do, and Mallett has already thrown the ball 33 times.

Hogs getting Maze-d

September, 26, 2009
9/26/09
6:06
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama's Marquis Maze is making up for a dropped touchdown pass in the first quarter.

His 80-yard touchdown reception put the Crimson Tide ahead 21-7 in the third quarter, and he came back a few minutes later with the block of the game. Maze took two Arkansas defenders out on one block to clear the way for Mark Ingram on a 14-yard scoring catch and run.

Maze is one of the best examples of how this offense has been more diversified than it was a year ago. He's made several big plays this season and has hurt teams when they've paid too much attention to Julio Jones.

Once again, big plays are killing Hogs

September, 26, 2009
9/26/09
5:56
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Big plays are killing Arkansas. They did last week against Georgia, and they are again Saturday against Alabama.

The Crimson Tide, leading 21-7, have three touchdowns, and all three are from at least 50 yards.

Greg McElroy’s 80-yard bomb to Marquis Maze came with Arkansas cornerback Rudell Crim in close proximity, but Crim never saw the ball.

Maze’s touchdown hurt even more for the Hogs, because they had just put together their first drive of the game and pulled within 14-7 on Ryan Mallett’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Greg Childs.

The last thing the Hogs can do is give up quick touchdowns if they want to still be in this game in the fourth quarter.

Halftime analysis: Alabama 14, Arkansas 0

September, 26, 2009
9/26/09
5:17
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama scored a pair of second-quarter touchdowns Saturday on big plays, and leads Arkansas 14-0 at halftime.

Here’s a quick analysis:

Stat of the half: Arkansas is just 2-of-10 on third down, and most of those the Hogs didn’t convert were third-and-long. The Crimson Tide held Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett to 7 of 21 passing in the opening half.

Turning point: Arkansas was hanging in there defensively until Alabama freshman running back Trent Richardson shook loose on a 52-yard touchdown romp to break a scoreless tie early in the second quarter. He broke four tackles on the play. Until that touchdown, Alabama only had four first downs in the game.

Best player of the half: Alabama cornerback Javier Arenas has been everywhere. He’s been a big part of the Crimson Tide’s pass rush, sacking Mallett twice. He’s also been solid in coverage and returned a punt inside the 5-yard line that was brought back because of an illegal block in the back penalty. Arenas has four tackles in the first half.

Jones, Wildcat come up big for Tide

September, 26, 2009
9/26/09
5:05
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -– It took a while, but finally a Julio Jones sighting.

Alabama’s star receiver broke his drought of 11 straight games without a touchdown catch when he bulled his way into the end zone on the tail end of a 50-yard catch from Greg McElroy to put the Crimson Tide ahead 14-0.

It looked like Arkansas would get Jones down around the 5, but he demonstrated that unbelievable strength that separates him from so many other receivers.

Here’s the other thing about that touchdown play: Nick Saban meant it when he said a couple of weeks ago that the Crimson Tide would keep working on the Wildcat package and add to it.

McElroy’s touchdown pass to Jones started with Mark Ingram lined up in the Wildcat. Ingram handed the ball to Terry Grant on an inside reverse, and Grant pitched it back to McElroy.

Throwing that pass out of that formation should make the Wildcat even more effective as this season progresses for the Crimson Tide. Defenses won't be as quick to crowd the line and play run only.

More on Hightower

September, 26, 2009
9/26/09
4:53
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It was Dont'a Hightower's left knee that the Alabama medical staff was working on before taking him to the locker room.

His reaction didn't look real promising when one of the trainers whispered something in his ear. Alabama coach Nick Saban also came over and patted him for encouragement. Hightower has yet to return from the locker room.

Hogs' defense getting no help from offense

September, 26, 2009
9/26/09
4:49
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - So far, you can't blame this one all on Arkansas's defense.

Other than Trent Richardson's long touchdown run and Julio Jones' long touchdown catch on a trick play, the Hogs have held in there pretty well on defense. They've played much better than they did a week ago in the 52-41 loss to Georgia.

The problem is that Arkansas can't budge Alabama's defense. Not even a successful fake punt in the first quarter could get the Hogs going on offense.

Nick Saban is doing what he does best, getting teams in third-and-long and then sending the pressure. Alabama's so good at disguising where it's coming from with the pressure, too. Cornerback Javier Arenas already has two sacks.

The Hogs have to start making some yards on first down, or this one will get out of hand.

Welcome, Mr. Richardson

September, 26, 2009
9/26/09
4:38
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Something tells me it was first of many great touchdown runs we'll see from Alabama's Trent Richardson during his career.

He showed a little bit of everything in his 52-yard touchdown run to put Alabama ahead of Arkansas, 7-0, in the second quarter.

He broke four tackles on his way to the end zone, two in the backfield. But what's so amazing about Richardson is that he has that kind of strength and power, yet also has the speed to run away from SEC defenders.

When he hit the right sideline, nobody was going to catch him. He has that extra gear that all the great backs have.

Not much time for Mallett

September, 26, 2009
9/26/09
4:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - As expected, Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett hasn't had much time to throw the football.

Alabama's pass-rush has kept Mallett bottled up, forcing him out of the pocket several times and forcing him to get rid of the ball earlier than he wanted to.

The Hogs also haven't been able to generate much of a running game, meaning they've been in third-and-long a bunch. It's the second week in a row that Arkansas hasn't been able to get its running game going.

Alabama's Hightower injured

September, 26, 2009
9/26/09
4:25
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Alabama sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower left the game with what appeared to be a left leg injury.

Hightower was helped off the field and taken to the locker room. He was replaced by Courtney Upshaw.

Can the Hogs hold up against Tide's pressure?

September, 26, 2009
9/26/09
2:53
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The key matchup Saturday in the Alabama-Arkansas game will undoubtedly be whether or not the Hogs’ pass protection can hold up.

Arkansas has only allowed two sacks for a loss of 9 yards in its first two games, although Georgia was able to force Ryan Mallett out of the pocket more as the game got into the later stages last week.

Alabama has 10 sacks in its first three games. That’s after getting 26 all of last season.

The Crimson Tide are using sophomore linebacker Dont’a Hightower in more of a pass-rushing role at that hybrid jack linebacker position on passing downs, and sophomore defensive end Marcell Dareus has also helped beef up Alabama’s pass rush.

The thing Alabama’s defense and Nick Saban are so good at is getting teams in third-and-long and then dialing up the pressure from all sorts of different angles.

Jones will play, wait and see on Upchurch

September, 26, 2009
9/26/09
2:10
PM ET


Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama receiver Julio Jones will play Saturday against Arkansas after sitting out last week's game with a bruised kneecap.

Jones probably could have played last week, but the Crimson Tide didn't want to take any chances.

The status of running back Roy Upchurch will be more wait and see. He hopes to play, but the coaches and medical staff want to see how he looks in warmups to be sure.

Looks like it's going to be a wet field, which is never good for bum ankles and knees.

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