Bryce Young entered the weekend as Vegas’ Heisman Trophy betting favorite. With a record performance Saturday afternoon, he may have lapped the field.
Against 25th-ranked Arkansas, Young became the first Crimson Tide quarterback to crack 500 yards passing in a game — double impressive considering his three direct predecessors are now NFL starters.
And, in the second-ranked Tide’s harrowing 42-35 victory, every piece of real estate he accounted for was necessary.
On a crisp late afternoon, no one benefited more than Jameson Williams.
The Ohio State transfer split two defenders to haul in a 79-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. More than three minutes later, he pulled in a 39-yard Young pass to give Alabama a 10-point lead at intermission.
The duo delivered their biggest strike with the game still in doubt. With Alabama facing a third-and-10 in the final six minutes, Williams ran past the secondary again to make a diving, juggling 40-yard grab that withstood an official’s review.
With the offense clicking, Alabama managed to match every thrust and parry from the much-improved Razorbacks.
Young, the sophomore from California, finished with the second-best night of any SEC passer ever — 31 of 40 passing for 561 yards and five touchdowns. The latter was a school record he originally established in two-plus quarters a week ago against New Mexico State.
Williams finished the day with 190 yards and three TDs receiving, while John Metchie III also had a monster day (173 and one score).
For Alabama, the video-game numbers were created behind a shuffled but punishing offensive line that punched holes for running lanes and provided good protection for Young to throw all day long.
With a plow horse-load at running back, Brian Robinson carried 27 times for 122 yards, providing a semblance of balance.
No. 4 Ohio State, Williams’ former team, could conceivably leapfrog both Alabama and Oregon in the next College Football Playoff rankings after routing No. 7 Michigan State 56-7.
But Alabama is now assured of a matchup with No. 1 Georgia, thanks to clinching the SEC West title Saturday. That’s coming up in Atlanta Dec. 4, after the Crimson Tide closes the regular season with archrival Auburn.
While the Bama offense seems to be hitting its stride at the right time, the defense remains a work in progress.
At times, with defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis surging through the line and linebacker Will Anderson cleaning up in his wake, the Tide was dominant.
But after Alabama took a 10-0 lead, Arkansas quarterback K.J. Jefferson got into a rhythm, leading his team to touchdowns on three of four possessions spanning the second and third quarters. He was most effective on third down, including a third-and-one where he connected to Treylon Burks for a sideline grab that the speedster turned into a 66-yard end zone romp.
Just as Alabama seemed ready to deliver a delayed knockout punch, Arkansas had cut the lead back to 10 again — 31-21.
Unlike the Alabama of old, though, there was no putting Arkansas away.
The Razorbacks pulled a trick play from the LSU playbook, using a fake field goal/jump pass that went for 32 yards and cut the margin to 34-28.
And after Young and Williams pushed the lead back to 14 points, Jefferson drove
Arkansas 75 yards for the game’s final score in the waning points.
It’s not that the Bama defense got gashed. Alabama had a 203-yard advantage in total offense and 29 first downs to Arkansas’ 21. But the inability to get the Razorbacks off the field was troubling. Arkansas was a combined 10 of 19 on third and fourth downs, including a perfect 3-for-3 on the latter.
But in a season where nothing seems consistent, except for Georgia’s weekly dominance, Alabama is right where it needs to be.
Doug Segrest, a former SEC beat reporter, is a freelance columnist.