No. 2 Alabama clinched the SEC West championship with a 42-35 win over No. 21 Arkansas Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and will meet No. 1 Georgia in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 4 in Atlanta (CBS, 3 p.m.).
The Crimson Tide (10-1, 6-1 SEC) closes the regular season on Saturday at Auburn at 2:30 p.m. on CBS. Georgia (11-0, 8-0 SEC) defeated Charleston Southern, 56-7, earlier Saturday. Alabama extended its SEC record for most consecutive 10-win seasons with its 14th and beat Arkansas for the 13th straight time.
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young broke the Alabama record for passing yards with 561 as he threw five touchdowns and completed 31 of 40 passes. The previous record stood since 1969 when Scott Hunter threw for 484 in a 49-26 loss to Auburn.
The Hogs (7-4, 3-4 SEC) hung tough and would not go away throughout the game, particularly on a dandy, fake field goal for a 32-yard touchdown to cut Alabama’s lead to 34-28 with 11:24 to play in the fourth quarter. Cam Little lined up for a 49-yard field field goal, but holder/punter Reid Bauer took the snap, stood up, ran toward the line, jumped and threw to tight end Blake Kern over the middle for the score.
“I think it was a win, all right, so we’re happy about that,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said on CBS after the game, but he did not appear overly pleased. “We did a lot of things — gave them a fake field goal for a touchdown. There are a lot of things we can correct, all right.”
Alabama thought it put the game away on Young’s third touchdown pass to wide receiver Jameson Williams – a 40-yard reception in the back of the end zone that was reviewed to see if Young got his hands between the ball and the ground as he fell. It counted, and Young ran for the two-point conversion and a 42-28 lead with 5:39 left. Williams caught eight passes for a career-high 190 yards.
Officials were roundly criticized for calling for Alabama in the first half on Twitter. Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek seemed to be taking a shot at officials in a tweet after the game.
“Disappointed for everyone in the Razorback locker room,” he said. “Played and coached their hearts out, earned and deserved better. Two years in a row leaving this state with a bad taste in my mouth. Proud today and every day to be an Arkansas Razorback.”
Yurachek was referencing a controversial call in Arkansas’ 30-28 loss at Auburn last season.
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson quickly got his team within striking distance as he threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to tailback Raheim Sanders with 1:02 to play to cut the Tide’s lead to 42-35. Jefferson finished 22-of-30 passing for 326 yards and three touchdowns.
“We didn’t play great on defense, which is an issue we’ve got to get resolved,” Saban said. “And we didn’t finish drives in the red zone, which is another issue. We fumbled the ball on the 2-yard line. We take a sack and miss a field goal.”
Arkansas fell behind 31-14 early in the third quarter on Young’s fourth touchdown pass of the game – 11 yards to wide receiver Christian Leary at the 11:31 mark. But the Hogs struck right back as Jefferson hit Treylon Burks, who made a move and eluded Tide tackles for a 66-yard touchdown to cut Alabama’s lead to 31-21 with 10:09 to go.
Then Arkansas turned back Alabama after it reached a first and goal at the 7-yard line. After a holding call, linebacker Hayden Henry sacked Young for a 16-yard loss to set up a fourth and goal at the 29. And Will Reichard missed a 47-yard field goal.
“I was very proud of the way that we kept coming back and the physicality of our program,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said. “We did not come here to lose by seven. We came here to win the game, and I think you can see that by the way that we played.”
Reichard redeemed himself minutes later, though, with a 30-yard field goal to increase Alabama’s lead to 34-21 with 1:09 to go before the fourth quarter.
Young was already at 287 yards passing with three touchdowns with 14 completions in 19 attempts in the first half. His 79-yard touchdown pass to Williams put the Tide up 17-7 with 5:21 to go in the second quarter.
Jefferson answered that immediately with a 40-yard pass to wide receiver Warren Thompson to the 1-yard line, where Dominique Johnson scored from to cut the Tide’s lead to 17-14 with 3:40 to go before halftime. Jefferson finished the half with 12 completions in 17 passes for 163 yards and 31 yards rushing on eight carries.
But Young struck again with Williams on a a 30-yard touchdown pass with 1:44 left for a 24-14 halftime lead. Robinson gained 65 yards on 16 carries in the first half before finishing with 122 yards on 27 carries.
“Obviously, they have a Heisman Trophy candidate throwing the ball, and they did an outstanding job. Jameson Williams is a special, special player,” Pittman said.
Alabama struggled to cover Arkansas wide receiver Treylon Burks, who caught five passes for 82 yards in the first half with a 15-yard touchdown to cut Alabama’s lead to 10-7 with 6:06 remaining in the second quarter. The Razorbacks drove 96 yards in 13 plays for that touchdown. Burks finished with eight catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns.
Alabama took a 10-0 lead six seconds into the second quarter on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Young to wide receiver John Metchie III to cap off a 98-yard drive in nine plays. Reichard’s 48-yard field goal put the Tide up 3-0 midway through the first quarter. Metchie caught 10 passes in all for 173 yards.
“Look, these guys have played hard all year long,” Saban said. “It’s tough in the SEC, and it’s tough in the West. I knew they had a good team and this would be a tough game. I’m proud of our players and the way they competed.”