September 25, 2010
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Alabama 24, Arkansas 20. It took the Razorbacks about 45 seconds to exploit the worst fears about Alabama's young, revamped defense, when a busted coverage by true freshman cornerback DeMarcus Milliner left Ronnie Wingo open for a free and easy touchdown on the second snap of the game. It took them about 30 minutes to get the 'Bama secondary nice and crispy with more than 300 total yards in the first half, and another 10 or so to put the Tide's 27-game regular-season winning streak up on the gallows, in front of the entire country, grimly staring down a 20-7 hole as the third quarter ticked to a close.
From there, it took the Tide about 15 minutes to slip from the noose, swing triumphantly over the heads of 70,000 stunned Arkansans and gallop away with their place as the top-ranked, championship-bound overlord as secure as ever. You know, all in a day's work.
As vulnerable and even occasionally shellshocked as Alabama looked through most of the first three quarters, the final product was vintage 'Bama. From the moment the Razorbacks went up 20-7, their last three possessions in the fourth quarter went punt-interception-interception and sent Mallett limping off as the goat, box score be damned. Alabama's next three possessions went touchdown-field goal-touchdown to go ahead, the first two coming on long, methodical drives with heavy doses of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, who combined to grind out 295 total yards for the game and all three of the Tide's touchdowns.
Every good team begins to feel the rope tightening at some point, and Alabama's response in the fourth quarter – just by being Alabama, with the defense and relentless running game – is what separates an eventual champion from the pack. You have to win games like this.
Of course, the more games it has to win like this, the more precarious the Tide's perch is going to be – you're not going to roar back from two-touchdown deficits in the second half while giving up 360 yards passing on a regular basis. Last year's championship outfit never had to pull off either. But you're not going to run into Ryan Mallett on a regular basis, either. You can tell more about a team when the aura of invincibility begins to slip away than any other time, and Alabama's answer tells us they're a deserving No. 1. For now.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.