TUSCALOOSA, Ala. –- Arkansas’ defense turned in its best performance of the season and the Razorbacks had a chance to win at No. 20 Alabama on Saturday, but the Crimson Tide got a game-turning play from its defense in holding off the Razorbacks, 24-13.
Down 17-3, and with Kenneth Darby and the Alabama offense appearing to wear down the Razorbacks, Darren McFadden’s 70-yard touchdown run sparked the Hogs and put Arkansas in position to pull off the upset.
McFadden’s burst, which almost doubled what Alabama (4-0, 2-0) was allowing on the ground entering the game (38.0), and a Chris Balseiro field goal got UA within 17-13 with less than 10 minutes to play.
The defense held on Alabama’s next possession and Arkansas had the ball at its 45, but on third-and-eight, linebacker Juwan Simpson intercepted a Robert Johnson pass and returned to the UA 40 with 5:50 left.
Eight plays later, with Darby gaining 22 yards on three carries, Brodie Croyle hit an uncovered D.J. Hall for a five-yard touchdown on the right side to put the game away at 24-13 with 2:22 remaining.
Even after that score Arkansas fought back, driving to the Alabama six in the final seconds.
McFadden finished with 95 yards on eight carries against the second-best rushing defense in the nation and the fourth-best total defense (204.0). Peyton Hillis had 54 yards on nine carries and Felix Jones 48 on 10, but it was the defense that kept Arkansas in the game.
After allowing 736 yards in last week’s 70-17 loss at No. 1 Southern California, Arkansas responded by limiting Alabama to its lowest point total of the year and its fewest yards of total offense (301).
Arkansas (1-3, 0-2) finished with 237 yards rushing and 318 yards of total offense, both opponent highs against Alabama this year.
Johnson finished 11-of-26 passing for 81 yards with the one interception.
Darby led Alabama with 98 yards on 18 carries. Croyle was 13-of-27 passing for 173 yards and two touchdowns, both to Hall, who had three catches for 54 yards.
Just when it looked like Alabama was wearing down the Razorbacks, McFadden went around left end for the 70-yard touchdown to get the Hogs within 17-10.
The defense held on the next possession and Kyle Dickerson blocked Jeremy Schatz’s punt with John Aaron Rees recovering at the Tide 11.
Alabama’s defense held and Arkansas had to settle for a 27-yard field goal from Chris Balseiro, which got the Razorbacks within 17-13 with 9:53 remaining.
Kenneth Darby’s 24-yard run to the one set up Tim Castille’s touchdown two plays later, giving Alabama a 17-3 lead less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
The drive covered 79 yards in 10 plays with Darby accounting for 47 yards on four rushes.
The defense helped Arkansas avoid a terrible second-half start. Arkansas got the ball to start the third quarter, but Johnson was sacked for a seven-yard loss and fumbled on first down. Alabama took over at the 17, but the Hog defense held, thanks to an Anthony Brown tackle of Brandon Brooks for a three-yard loss, and the Tide settled for Jamie Christensen’s 36-yard field goal and a 10-3 lead at 13:23.
Following a scoreless first quarter, Arkansas took a 3-0 lead on a 34-yard second-quarter field goal by Chris Balseiro.
On the next possession, Croyle moved Alabama 64 yards in four plays, hitting Hall for a 43-yard touchdown across the middle and a 7-3 lead with 6:57 left in the first half.
That lead stood at the half with Arkansas reaching the Alabama 35 as the second quarter ended.
Arkansas’ defense got off to a good start, stopping Alabama on fourth-and-two at the Arkansas 28 and then forcing a three-and-out on the Crimson Tide’s next two possessions. Alabama’s third drive began at its one after Chris Houston downed a Jacob Skinner punt, setting up Arkansas at the Tide 40.
The Razorbacks were unable to move the ball, but Houston downed another Skinner punt at the two. Sam Olajubutu’s seven-yard sack of Brodie Croyle forced another punt and the Hogs took over at the Alabama 44.
Eight plays later, following a seven-yard third-down run by Hillis and an eight-yard carry by Jones, Balseiro connected on a 34-yard field goal to give Arkansas a 3-0 lead with 8:54 left in the first half.
Arkansas is off Saturday before playing host to Louisiana-Monroe at 6 p.m. at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock on Oct. 8.