Alabama punishes Arkansas to lead into season-defining stretch

11:26 PM ET

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Maybe it wasn’t as thrilling as that double-overtime game down in College Station, but a mighty message was sent by Alabama on Saturday.

With its 49-30 victory over No. 16 Arkansas, the top-ranked Crimson Tide looked like the Alabama of old — you know, the one that’s won all those titles — for the better part of four quarters Saturday night, playing like a team possessed. Playing like a team that had a point to prove at the start of a treacherous four-game stretch that will define Alabama’s season.

It wasn’t always pretty, but Alabama played about as complete a game as it could on offense, racking up 35 points and 396 yards (214 rushing) by halftime. The defense showed holes in the secondary, but when you have a lead that had some in the press box wondering if Arkansas should plead for a running clock in the second half, your opponent has no choice but to throw.

You could feel the blowout coming when Tim Williams returned an Austin Allen fumble 23 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter, marking Alabama’s eighth non-offensive touchdown of the season and the eighth straight game in which the Tide have scored a touchdown on defense or special teams. The stands started to empty when Bo Scarbrough made one move on a defender and essentially walked into the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown to put Alabama ahead 35-10 in the second quarter.

By halftime, Jalen Hurts had 182 passing yards and had accounted for three touchdowns. He was out of the game halfway through the fourth, 273 total yards and four touchdowns in hand.

Behind Allen’s impressive arm, Arkansas made hints at a comeback, but it all ended early in the fourth when he threw into triple coverage and Minkah Fitzpatrick intercepted the pass (Allen’s third pick of the night) and returned it 100-plus yards for Alabama’s ninth non-offensive touchdown this season.

Alabama — still looking for a Nick Saban-approved complete game — started its daunting four-game stretch with a huge, dominant road win. That stretch continues with a trip to Tennessee next week before the Tide host Texas AM and venture to LSU.

For most of the night, this was a vintage Saban game at Alabama. The pounding running game. The swarming defense that seemingly hit Allen on just about every throw. The two defensive touchdowns. This is the portion of the season when Alabama lets us know if it can duplicate the four previous Saban-led national championship runs. Saturday night showed us that Alabama is barreling that way at the perfect time.

Even with its flawed secondary, it seems that Alabama has just about everything it needs for another title run. Its freshman quarterback is growing every week. The defense seems to get more and more ferocious up front. The running backs on this team are essentially Mack trucks in human clothing.

Alabama is gaining terrifying speed at the perfect time, while Tennessee will limp into next week’s game at many spots. Texas AM quarterback Trevor Knight is having turnover issues. And nobody knows what kind of shape LSU will be in come November.

We all quietly wondered if this Alabama team had the championship pedigree of Tide teams before it. On Saturday night, I think we got our answer.

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