No. 1 ’Bama picks off Arkansas
Ingram, defense help rally Crimson Tide
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Trailing on the road against one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, No. 1 Alabama escaped by doing what it does best: making big plays on defense and giving the ball to Mark Ingram.
The Heisman Trophy winner ran for 157 yards and scored on a 1-yard run with 3:18 to play, and two first-year starters in the ’Bama secondary made late interceptions to help the top-ranked Crimson Tide rally from a 13-point deficit and beat No. 10 Arkansas, 24-20, yesterday.
Robert Lester set up the winning score with his second interception of the day against Ryan Mallett, and Dre Kirkpatrick’s pick put the Tide (4-0, 1-0 SEC) in position to run out the clock on their 18th straight victory.
“We just had our focus on going out there and executing, and we played with a lot of heart and a lot of intensity and determination,’’ Ingram said. “It’s big for this team to have a situation like that and persevere like that.’’
The young secondary, with Mark Barron as the only returning starter from last season’s national title team, had been surrounded by question marks leading up to a showdown with Mallett, the nation’s leading passer.
Mallett put up 357 yards on 25-of-38 passing but it was the Tide’s defense — as usual — that came up with the big plays down the stretch.
Lester returned his second interception 33 yards to the Arkansas 12, and Nick Saban gave the ball to his Heisman-winning running back on three straight plays to get the go-ahead score.
The Crimson Tide were able to run out the final 1:48 after Mallett threw his third interception, which came when Kirkpatrick kept his feet inbounds while reaching to catch Mallett’s attempted throwaway on the right sideline.
That sent Arkansas (3-1, 1-1) and its record home crowd of 76,808 away disappointed in the biggest game on campus in decades.
“We came out and competed extremely hard,’’ Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino said. “We did a good job in the first half of getting the lead and getting turnovers, and then we just couldn’t find a way to win it in the fourth quarter. We certainly had our chances.’’
But with its usual formula of defensive play-making and Ingram’s tough running, the Tide started out SEC play with a victory for the 19th straight season.
Mallett, who said the Razorbacks never thought they could win during a 35-7 loss at Alabama last season, provided reason to believe right off the bat in this one.
He corralled a high snap on Arkansas’s first play and tossed a 31-yard pass to Jairus Wright, then followed with a 43-yard TD pass to Ronnie Wingo Jr., who had slipped out of the backfield uncovered. He shrugged off Lester’s tackle before making the final few steps into the end zone.
Ingram responded with a 54-yard TD run, stiff-arming Ramon Broadway on his way into the end zone, but the Razorbacks weren’t done.
Mallett led Arkansas down for a touchdown in the final two minutes for the third straight half, sneaking in from 1 yard to make it 17-7 at the half. Ben Hocker’s 48-yard field goal in the third quarter put Arkansas up, 20-7, before the Tide started fighting back.
Trent Richardson scored on a 20-yard screen pass from Greg McElroy in the final minute of the third quarter, and it took ’Bama more than eight minutes to drive for Jeremy Shelley’s 36-yard field goal with 6:01 to play.