By ERIC W. BOLIN, Associated Press
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Alabama did it once. That was probably enough for Nick Saban’s tastes.
The second-ranked Crimson Tide lost starting quarterback Bryce Young to a shoulder injury in the second quarter against Arkansas on Saturday in a 49-26 win over No. 20 Arkansas. For a period, though, Alabama appeared in trouble without the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.
Saban, who has never lost to Arkansas in his 16 years as Alabama coach, is hopeful Young would be fine for the Crimson Tide’s game next week against Texas A&M — the only team to beat Alabama in the regular season last year.
“Bryce has a little AC sprain in his shoulder. We’ll have to take it day-to-day,” Saban said. “I think he’s OK. He doesn’t have a serious injury.”
After opening a 28-0 lead in the second quarter behind two touchdown series from Young and another two from his replacement, redshirt freshman Jalen Milroe, the Alabama offense began to sputter. Arkansas capitalized.
Milroe, who finished just 4 of 9 passing for 65 yards and a touchdown, and the Alabama offense had minus-1 yard in the third quarter. Then they saw their 28-point lead evaporate to five entering the fourth.
Arkansas rallied with its running game, trickery and Alabama’s own mistakes.
Arkansas ran for 187 yards on the ground, the most Alabama has allowed since Week 3 last year. Rocket Sanders, who entered the game as the SEC’s leading rusher, had his fourth 100-yard game of the season, going for 101 on 22 carries. His touchdown with 19 seconds left in the third quarter trimmed Alabama’s lead to five.
It came after a bad snap on a punt attempt resulted in the Razorbacks taking over on the Crimson Tide 3.
“We didn’t maintain our intensity. We let them get back in the game at one point,” Saban said. “The kicking game errors, the onside kick, the bad snap on the punt. Those were really our errors.”
They stopped making them in the fourth. Ahead by just five and facing a third-and-15 from his own 20, Milroe scrambled for 77 yards inside the Arkansas five. Three plays later, Jase McClellan scored from three yards and the lead was back to double-digits. Arkansas never recovered.
“It stopped the bleeding for sure because that was third-and-long in bad field position,” Saban said. “That was a huge momentum swing in the game, in my opinion. After that, we played better. After that, I think they didn’t play as well.”
Jahmyr Gibbs tacked on two more touchdowns in the fourth on runs of 72 and 76 yards. He finished with 202 yards and two scores on 18 carries.
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson was 13 of 24 passing with 155 yards and a touchdown. Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said the quarterback hit his head on a play before exiting and with the outcome not in doubt, he chose not to put the quarterback back into the game. It was unclear whether that was because of injury or the score.
“Right now, we’re one-dimensional,” Pittman said. “We’ve got to be able to throw and catch and protect. We can’t just turn around and hand the ball off and beat really good teams.”
Alabama: Always has answers. Without Young, it simply leaned into its running game.
Arkansas: Pittman was bold with an onside kick to steal a possession, but the Razorbacks’ defense couldn’t take advantage of Young’s absence.
HOPEFUL FOR THE HEISMAN
Young is among the favorites again for the Heisman Trophy in 2022. Saban said he didn’t put him back into the game because the injury limited his throwing ability.
“He couldn’t go back in the game today because I didn’t think he had much steam throwing the ball,” Saban said. “He’s had these before and in a few days he’s responded really well. We’ll just have to see how it goes.
BACK TO EARTH
Arkansas cracked the Top 10 two weeks ago after starting 3-0, but could fall out of the rankings after two straight losses to Alabama and Texas A&M. The Razorbacks lost three straight games last year before winning five of their last six.
“We’ve got to regroup,” Pittman said. “Last year we lost three in a row and turned it around. We’ve got to find a way to turn it around.”
Alabama will likely stay at No. 2 in the rankings, but with more than half the season to play, Young’s status will likely determine whether they stay there for the long term.
Arkansas could drop out of the Top 25 following a second straight loss.
Alabama: Hosts Texas A&M next week.
Arkansas: Travels to Mississippi State for Week 6.