Sept. 17, 2008
By Barry Allen
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - The Alabama-Arkansas rivalry has always had a flair for the dramatics.
The two schools only met twice prior to Arkansas' inclusion into the Southeastern Conference in 1992, but since the Razorbacks have joined the league the Alabama-Arkansas game has always been one of the top SEC tilts in the month of September.
"It usually takes more than a day or two to recover from an Arkansas game," Alabama senior center Antoine Caldwell said earlier this week. "I started watching film of them and as usual they are pretty big up front. I know Earnest Mitchell; I've played against him a couple times. He's probably the best one we will see all year for sure. It's going to be another physical game like it always is."
Seven of the 16 SEC meetings have come down to the final play of the game. Five times the winning score has come on the final snap of the game. Two games have been decided in double-overtime. A total of 10 games have been decided by seven points or less and three of the last five games have been decided by seven total points.
And the stakes are usually high.
"Normally, whoever wins this game goes on to have a pretty good year," Caldwell added. "It's one of those swing games that we've had. It's going to be another physical game. We look forward to preparing as hard as we can for it and getting after in on Saturday."
The first two meetings - the 1962 Sugar Bowl and 1980 Sugar Bowl - clinched national championships for Alabama. The Crimson Tide beat the Razorbacks 10-3 at Tulane Stadium on Jan. 1, 1962 and then again 24-9 at the Superdome on Jan. 1, 1980.
Alabama and Arkansas would not meet again until the Razorbacks joined the SEC in 1992. The Crimson Tide served as the guest for the Razorbacks first-ever SEC home game and won the game 38-11; prompting Arkansas interim head coach Joe Kines to say after the loss "we just got beat by the national champions."
As it turns out Kines was right. Alabama won its next 10 games, including wins over Florida in the inaugural SEC Championship Game and Miami in the Sugar Bowl, to finish 13-0 and lay claim to the school's 12th national championship.
Overall, Alabama owns a 10-8 series lead over Arkansas, but the series is tied 8-8 since the two schools became SEC Western Division rivals 17 years ago.
Alabama won again in 1993 and 1994, before Arkansas uses a little drama for its first-series win in 1995. Barry Lunney, Jr., engineered a fourth-quarter comeback for a 20-19 win in Tuscaloosa. Lunney's 3-yard pass to J.J. Medors with six seconds left in the game tied the score. Todd Latoruette's extra point decided the game.
The Crimson Tide would win the following year in Fayetteville, before the Razorbacks won the next two meetings, including a 17-16 squeaker in Tuscaloosa in 1997.
Alabama got back on the winning track in 1999, with a 35-28 win in Tuscaloosa. Kecalf Bailey and Tony Dixon batted down back-to-back passes in the end zone on the final two plays of the game to preserve the win. Shaun Alexander added 165 rushing yards and one touchdown in the win. Arkansas used a late fourth-quarter touchdown to pull out a 28-21 win in the rain in Fayetteville in 2000.
The Crimson Tide posted back-to-back wins in 2001 and 2002. The Tide posted a 31-10 win in Tuscaloosa in 2001 as the defense scored a pair of touchdowns. Reggie Myles 42-yard interception return gave Alabama a 14-3 second-quarter lead and Thurman Ward's 60-yard interception return sealed the three touchdown win. The following year, Shaud Williams scored on an 80-yard run on the first play of the game as Alabama cruised to a 30-11 win.
Running backs Santonio Beard (21-134-0) and Williams (11-114-1) each rushed for 100 yards in the win and quarterback Brodie Croyle, making his first career SEC start, was named National Freshman of the Week after he completed 12 of 24 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns.
Arkansas won a double-overtime game at Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2003, as the Razorbacks overcame a 31-10 second-half deficit. The teams combined for 887 total yards in the double-overtime game and the start of the game was delayed one hour due to storms and the game lasted almost four hours.
The Razorbacks won again in 2004 in Fayetteville. Alabama posted a 24-10 win in Tuscaloosa in 2005, as D.J. Hall had two touchdown grabs, but lost another double-overtime game in Fayetteville in 2006.
Last year, John Parker Wilson led Alabama to last-minute, game-winning touchdown drive as the Crimson Tide pulled out a 41-38 win at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Wilson has turned in two solid outings in his career against the Arkansas Razorbacks. In two starts, Wilson has completed 40-of-65 passes (61.5 percent) for 570 yards with seven touchdowns and just two interceptions. That computes to a 165.58 pass efficiency rating.
His first career SEC road start came at Arkansas on Sept. 23, 2006, in the Tide's 24-23 double-overtime loss. He completed 16-of-20 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns, including a 78-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Hall, the 10th longest TD pass in school history. The 80 percent completion percentage is the third-highest single-game total in school history with a minimum of 15 completions.
Last year, Wilson completed 24-of-45 passes for 327 yards and four touchdowns, both career highs, in the Tide's 41-38 come-from-behind win. He directed Alabama on a game-winning drive, completing 7-of-9 passes for 52 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown strike to Matt Caddell with eight seconds left on the clock.
"The two-minute drive to end the game was awesome," Wilson said earlier this week as he reflected upon last year's game. "The stadium was quiet then we'd hit a pass and then they'd go crazy. It was just something that I'll always remember. There were two minutes left and we go downfield and throw a touchdown pass to win the game. It was a pretty special moment."
He even remembers "the catch".
"That was a pretty good one," Wilson recalls. "That definitely ranks up there. It's good to watch. I've seen it on the highlight video. He just made a great play on it. It was pretty sweet win."
Alabama will head to Fayetteville this Saturday seeking just its third all-time win on the Arkansas campus and its first since 2002.
"We just have to worry about what we do and take care of our business and try to play our best ball and see what happens," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said at his Monday press conference. "We are certainly looking forward to the challenge of the SEC schedule starting."
And you can bet with Alabama-Arkansas involved, it will be another exciting game.