Sept. 25, 2009
NEW ORLEANS, La. – Seeking its first 12-0 season under legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, No. 2 Alabama overcame a slow start to defeat No. 6 Arkansas, 24-9, in the Jan. 1, 1980 Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.
The win lifted Alabama to No. 1 in the final Associated Press and United Press International rankings, giving the Tide its sixth national title in Bryant’s amazing 25-year run at his alma mater. Alabama had been ranked No. 1 for seven weeks during the regular season, but slipped to No. 2 after a narrow 25-18 win over No. 14 Auburn in its final regular season game. The win over Arkansas, coupled with Ohio State’s loss to Southern California in the Rose Bowl, put the Tide back in its rightful place atop the polls.
Alabama rolled to a perfect regular season with a high-powered running attack and a stern defense that pitched five shutouts. Arkansas brought a 10-1 record into the Sugar Bowl, which included wins over Texas, Texas A&M and SMU. The lone blemish was a 13-10 loss to Houston after a 6-0 start.
The statistics were almost identical, with Alabama out-gaining Arkansas, 354-342. The Crimson Tide’s offense churned out 284 rushing yards with its wishbone attack, while the Razorbacks relied on quarterback Kevin Scanlon, who completed 22-of-39 passes for 245 yards, to move the football.
Billy Jackson, Major Ogilvie and Steve Whitman combined for 224 of the Tide’s rushing offense and all three scores. Jackson led all rushers with 120 yards on 13 carries, while Ogilvie added 14 rushes for 67 yards and two touchdowns. Whitman had six carries for 37 yards, including a game-clinching 12-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
The Crimson Tide defense shut down the run and made key stops at crucial times in the game. Randy Scott had 12 tackles and Thomas Boyd added 11 stops in the game. The Tide defense also had 15 pass deflections and forced three turnovers in the win.
It was not a good start for the Crimson Tide as All-American cornerback Don McNeal fumbled the opening kickoff to give Arkansas the ball at the UA 25-yard line. Three plays netted only eight yards against the stingy Alabama defense and Ish Ordonez’s 34-yard field goal gave Arkansas a 3-0 lead with 12:54 left in the first quarter.
Alabama went three-and-out on its next possession before the offense finally clicked midway through the first quarter. Starting from its own 18-yard line, Alabama covered 82 yards in seven plays for the go-ahead score as Ogilvie raced 22 yards to give the Tide a 7-3 lead with 6:37 left in the first quarter.
The Tide defense set up the next score when Boyd recovered a Scanlon fumble at the Razorbacks 22-yard line. The Tide needed only four plays to score, capped by Ogilvie’s 1-yard run. Alan McElroy’s extra point gave Alabama a 14-3 lead with 3:48 left in the first quarter.
The two teams would exchange punts on the next three possessions as a battle for field position ensued. Arkansas punter Bruce Lahay dropped a 39-yard punt at the Alabama 1-yard line, putting the Alabama offense in a tough spot. Facing a third-and-five at the UA 6-yard line, Bryant elected to quick kick and Ogilvie hit a 43-yarder that was downed at the Tide 49.
Gary Anderson picked up 17 yards on first down to the Alabama 32, but the next three plays netted only nine yards and Arkansas coach Lou Holtz was faced with a decision on fourth-and-one from the Tide 23. Holtz elected to go for it and Anderson was stopped for no gain by Scott to end the threat.
Alabama regained field position, which led to McElroy’s 25-yard field goal with 25 seconds left in the half to put the Tide up 17-3 at intermission.
Arkansas took the second half kickoff and marched 80 yards in 11 plays for its only touchdown of the game. Scanlon’s 3-yard pass to Robert Farrell cut the Alabama lead to 17-9. Arkansas elected to go for two following the touchdown pass, but Wayne Hamilton and Boyd foiled the two-point attempt when they stopped Scanlon short of the end zone with 11:37 left in the third quarter.
The teams exchanged punts before Alabama engineered an 11-play drive to the Arkansas 35-yard line before Woody Umphrey’s 30-yard punt was downed at the Arkansas 5. Arkansas moved into Alabama territory with a 14-play drive of its own before Lahay dropped a punt at the Alabama 2-yard line.
The Crimson Tide offense responded with its most impressive drive of the game, covering the 98 yards in nine plays for the game-clinching score. Jackson had a 35-yard run to move the ball to midfield and Steadman Shealy added a 22-yard scamper to the Arkansas 11-yard line. Whitman clinched the game and the national title with his 12-yard run with 8:59 left on the clock to put the Tide in front 24-9.
Arkansas’ final three possessions ended in a punt and two interceptions as the Crimson Tide defense sealed the win and the national title.
Editor’s Note: The 1979 team is holding its 30-year reunion this weekend in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide’s national championship team will be honored at a reception at the Bryant Museum on Friday night and will then be recognized at halftime during the Alabama-Arkansas game on Saturday.