Saturday, September 15, 2012
By Alex Scarborough TideNation
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- No. 1 Alabama didn't get Arkansas' best. The Razorbacks' best busied himself on the sidelines, wearing a ball cap and occasionally listening to the play calls coming in on a headset.
Tyler Wilson, Arkansas' star quarterback, was regulated a casual observer of the offense on a rain-soaked Saturday afternoon in Fayetteville. What he saw from his front-row seat was enough to make any starter call on his backup.
Alabama's defenders, including Jesse Williams, were relentless in a blowout at Arkansas.
No one wants to be the whipping boy when the Alabama defense is on the field.
A ghoulish Jesse Williams turned Wilson's backups a lighter shade of pale. Williams' face, painted white around his stark brown eyes, showed no sign of surrender. The 320-pound hulk in the middle of Alabama's defense helped guide a unit that instilled fear in Arkansas, forcing eight fumbles en route to a 52-0 win.
Whether it was Wilson, Ryan Mallett or Joe Dirt quarterbacking the Razorbacks, the Crimson Tide defense was ready to get after him.
"When we hit him, they're wearing the same color jersey," Williams said matter-of-factly.
"I told our players that their quarterback situation was not our problem," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "Regardless of who played, we'd have to play well."
Saban said the team spent the week scouting what backups Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell could do in the passing game. When it became clear that Wilson wouldn't play, the defense adjusted.
Allen, the pure passer of the two, had no time to react and was pulled down for three sacks. He watched helplessly as two of his passes were intercepted.
Mitchell, for his part, didn't play much better. His athleticism and quick feel couldn't bail him out, rushing for just 3 yards per carry. He completed one of seven passes.
"Our players understood whichever quarterback was in the game, these are the things they'd try to do and we needed to try to stop it," Saban said. "I was pleased with the way the guys responded."
Alabama shut out Arkansas in Fayetteville for the first time since Oct. 8, 1966, when Baylor won a 7-0 battle. Those weren't the days when the Razorbacks were known for the high-flying offense installed under former coach Bobby Petrino.
Those days, like Petrino, were but a distant memory against Alabama on Saturday afternoon.
The sixth-largest crowd in stadium history came out to see an SEC West showdown. By the time the hot dogs cooled in the second quarter, fans were devising their post-game route home, due in large part to a defense that allowed under 50 yards of total offense through two quarters and finished the game having given up just 58 yards rushing.
"We took it upon ourselves to execute what we needed to do," said senior safety Robert Lester.
The Tide's leader of the secondary said it didn't matter who was starting at quarterback for Arkansas, the defense was determined to make an impact on the game.
"They're a backup because they're able to come in and make things happen and make plays and manage the game," he said. "Whoever played in the game we would have to be ready for whatever they did."
The defense, which spoke all week about affecting the quarterback, did just that against the Razorbacks. Even when the first- and second-string defenders were pulled, the Arkansas offense was at a loss.
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"Really, it came down to us beating ourselves, whether it be turnovers or just not making the play whenever we needed to," Allen said. "Obviously, Alabama's a great defense, and they're No. 1 for a reason, but we hurt ourselves a lot."
The shutout, Lester said, was gratifying. But, as with most successes at Alabama, it came with a caveat.
"It always feels great to keep your opponent off the board," Lester said. "I don't want us to get complacent after doing this. We have a lot of great teams ahead of us."
The words might as well have come from his coach's mouth. Saban, who called a 35-0 shutout of Western Kentucky embarrassing last week, isn't about to let his foot off the gas.
"Hopefully, we'll have a little better disposition physiologically about how we approach what we need to do in the next game," Saban said. "It's not just about the next game, it's about getting the team better."
If there's something better than keeping your opponent from scoring, Saban will search it out. And with the way the defense is playing, he might just find it.