FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Matt Jones extended his school record by accounting for two touchdowns and that was enough for Arkansas to grind out a closer-than-it-sounds 27-10 Southeastern Conference victory over Alabama at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium Saturday afternoon.
In front of 72,543, the fifth-largest crowd in stadium history, Arkansas improved to 3-1 and 1-0 in the SEC while Alabama dropped to 3-1 and 1-1.
Jones entered the game tied for the school record in touchdown responsibility with Clint Stoerner with 62. Stoerner had 57 scoring passes and five TD runs from 1996-99 while Jones entered with 43 scoring tosses and 19 touchdown runs.
“There’s nothing like having No. 9 (Jones) handling the ball,” head coach Houston Nutt said. “It’s good to have a veteran out there. He gives the offense so much confidence. The offensive line did a great job and they helped the defense, too.”
Jones added a passing and rushing touchdown on Saturday, but his biggest play in a physical, defensive struggle was a 50-yard run around right end with just under eight minutes to play and Arkansas clinging to a 14-10 advantage.
Jones’ sprint down the right sideline on third-and-four put the Hogs at the Crimson Tide 24.
“Their quarterback had some great plays,” Alabama head coach Mike Shula said. “He had some great plays in the pocket and on that long run. He’s faster than we all think. He outran Roman (Harper), who is our fastest guy.”
Eight plays later, including a fourth-and-one conversion by Peyton Hillis at the 15, Hillis hammered into the end zone from the seven to give the Razorbacks a 20-10 lead with 3:02 left.
“The offensive line did a great job,” Hillis said. “A couple of linebackers hit me, but I spun off them and got in the end zone.”
UA’s defense forced Alabama quarterback Marc Guillon out of bounds for a loss of one on first down, and then forced three incompletions to take over on downs at the Tide 23 with 2:28 to go.
A pass interference call in the end zone negated an Alabama interception with two minutes left. Two plays later De’Arrius Howard outran the defense to the left corner for the final margin.
The Razorbacks led 14-10 at the half, getting virtually all of their offense on their first and last possessions of the half.
On the first possession of the game, Arkansas drove 79 yards in nine plays and took a 7-0 lead when Jones eluded two rushers and scrambled into the end zone around right end.
UA’s first three rushes resulted in gains of six, five and four yards before Jones lost eight yards on a sack. Following the sack, Jones completed a 41-yard pass to Cedric Washington in which Washington wrestled the ball away from a defender as they fell to the ground, giving the Razorbacks first-and-goal at the nine. Howard carried to the six, setting up Jones’ touchdown, which gave the senior the school record for touchdown responsibility.
Arkansas’ next five possessions generated just 21 yards and two first downs.
Alabama, with Guillon at quarterback for Brodie Croyle, who was lost for the season in last week’s win over Western Carolina, tied the game midway through the second quarter when Ray Hudson swept around left end and outran UA’s defense for a 63-yard touchdown on first down.
After forcing UA to go three-and-out, Alabama drove 40 yards in 10 plays and took a 10-7 lead on Brian Bostick’s 37-yard field goal with 2:01 left in the first half. Thirty-two of the Tide’s yards came on seven rushing plays in the drive, but Alabama would get no closer than the Arkansas 39 the rest of the way.
“I thought the defense came out after the half and really performed,” Nutt said. “They have two backs that hit you with all they have. We finally got them stopped.”
The Crimson Tide ran for 176 yards and nine first downs in the first half, but was limited to 95 rushing yards and five first downs in the second.
“They came out and stopped us by putting more guys in the box and keeping the blitz moving,” Hudson said.
“Alabama has one of the best offenses in the SEC,” end Jeb Huckeba said. “When we can hold them to 10 points, it is a great success. It gives us a lot of confidence.”
Pinned at the 16 following the kickoff, DeCori Birmingham got around the right corner for a 21-yard gain to the 37. Following an 11-yard carry by Birmingham, Jones hit Marcus Monk for 23 yards to the Alabama 29. Birmingham gained six and Hillis five on the next two plays. From the 18, Jones hit Hillis down the right sideline at the goal line. Hillis made the grab and kept his feet while being hit from behind and from the left, giving the Hogs a 14-10 lead with 49 seconds left in the half.
“It was supposed to be a flat so when it broke down, I tried to do something that could help and Matt got it to me,” Hillis said. “The play was designed for me, but in the flat.”
“Peyton made a super catch,” Nutt said. “What he did takes concentration because he knows he’s going to get hit. He’s tough and he has great hands. He’s beyond his years in maturity.”
Alabama’s best drive of the second half began from its 20 at the end of the third quarter. Eight plays and 40 yards moved the Tide to the Arkansas 40. On third-and-two, Michael Coe stopped Ray Hudson after a gain of one to force a punt.
“We thought about going for it,” Shula said. “Our defense was playing well and we had a lot of time left. We were just going to see if we could get the ball back.”
After forcing another punt, Jones was sacked at the 13 for a loss of seven on first down. He kept on an option play for 13 yards on the next play and followed with the 50-yarder to the Tide 24. Until his 13-yard gain, he had been held to minus-12 yards on six carries.
“We mixed it up well,” Jones said. “Our true freshmen Marcus Monk and Peyton Hillis stepped up. They both made some nice catches. Our defense was strong and this game showed it. They shout out Alabama in the second half. This was probably one of the biggest wins we have had since I have been here.”
Jones finished seven-of-12 passing for 122 yards and a touchdown with one interception. He ran nine times for 60 yards and a score.
Howard had 21 carries for 64 yards and a touchdown. Birmingham had nine carries for 53 yards and Hillis 10 for 34 and a TD.
Hudson led Alabama with 170 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Kenneth Darby had 16 rushes for 51 yards. The Tide ran for 271 yards, but Guillon was just six-of-18 passing for 57 yards with an interception.
“We beat ourselves, not to discredit Arkansas because they played a good game today,” Guillon said. “It was the stupid penalties and not taking care of the ball.”
The Razorbacks travel to Florida Saturday for an 11 a.m. (central) game televised nationally by CBS.