TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP)—Greg McElroy passed for a career-high 291 yards and three touchdowns and No. 3 Alabama opened Southeastern Conference play with a 35-7 win over Arkansas on Saturday.
The Crimson Tide (4-0, 1-0) picked on the Razorbacks’ beleaguered defense with three huge plays and blocked a punt to win its 18th consecutive league opener dating to its 1992 national championship season.
A relentless defense hounded Ryan Mallett and the nation’s No. 2 offense. Mallett was just 12-for-35 for 161 yards for Arkansas (1-2, 0-2) and threw his first interception.
Alabama romped against a team scorched for 52 points last week by Georgia. Trent Richardson broke four tackles for a 52-yard touchdown run, Julio Jones caught a 50-yard TD pass on a trick play and McElroy hit Marquis Maze for an 80-yarder.
The Tide managed to avoid the troubles of its two Top 10 SEC West rivals. No. 4 Mississippi lost to South Carolina and No. 7 LSU barely escaped Mississippi State with a victory.
Bama, meanwhile, just coasted to another easy win, dominating its last three games by a collective 100 points.
Arkansas scored on its opening drive of the second half to cut the deficit to 14-7, but the momentum was short-lived.
McElroy hit a streaking Maze down the right sideline on the next play to halt that comeback for the school’s sixth-longest pass play and the nation’s No. 3 defense didn’t allow any more chances. McElroy was 17-of-24 passing and Alabama rolled up 425 total yards.
Bobby Petrino’s Arkansas offense managed just 254 yards after coming in averaging 538 a game and scoring 41 even in defeat against Georgia. Alabama had eight tackles for loss.
The nation’s most efficient passer, Mallett didn’t get much time to uncork his powerful arm. He was sacked three times—twice on corner blitzes by Javier Arenas—and pressured on numerous other plays.
Mallett was also intercepted for the first time this season when a pass bounced off his receiver into the hands of Justin Woodall in the fourth quarter, his final attempt. The only time he got going was when he was 3-for-3 on the opening drive of the third, capped by an 18-yard touchdown pass to Greg Childs.
Other than that, Alabama was the one producing the big plays Mallett and the Razorbacks had been piling up.
Richardson broke a scoreless tie when he shed two tacklers behind the line, shook off a couple more, then sprinted down the right sideline for a 52-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter.
Then Jones, who sat out last weekend’s game against North Texas with a bruised right knee, caught a 50-yard pass for his first touchdown in 12 games. Mark Ingram took the snap out of the Wildcat formation and handed it to Terry Grant, who pitched back to McElroy. Jones was so wide open downfield he had to turn around and wait for the ball and was still able to run to the end zone.
Petrino also had some trickery work in the first half, even if it didn’t lead to points. Ronnie Wingo ran for a first down on fourth-and-5 on a fake punt from his own 25.
Ingram was held to 50 yards on 17 carries, but also caught a 14-yard touchdown pass and capped a 99-yard drive with a 2-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter.