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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas coach Chad Morris (left) and Alabama coach Nick Saban speak prior to a game Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, in Fayetteville. - Photo by Charlie Kaijo

FAYETTEVILLE -- It was a game that should leave the University of Arkansas looking forward to returning to work this week. Even as one-sided as the final score was, 65-31, it was a better game than that.

Improvement was seen for the third straight week.

The Razorbacks finally were able to handle Alabama sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the third quarter with an assist from the Tide side of the field. That's when former starter Jalen Hurts was inserted with the game comfortably in hand at 48-14.

Tagovailoa had completed 10 of 13 passes for 334 yards and 4 touchdowns. His quarterback rating was 394.3. He seemed to have an answer for everything the Hogs had.

Early in the third quarter, for some reason, the Razorbacks opted to go for it on fourth and 1 from their own 46 and got stuffed.

Maybe being down 41-14 had something to do with the decision to go for it. It took Tagovailoa seven plays to cover the 44 yards, all on the ground, for a 48-14 lead with 8:47 to play in the third quarter on his last series.

Other than that play, the Razorbacks' play calling had been creative, imaginative and confusing for Alabama.

That's how they scored two first-half touchdowns, and the 14 points were the most the Tide defense had allowed in the first half all season. The 31 total points were eight more than Alabama had allowed in one game this season.

But the 65 points were the most the Crimson Tide have scored.

Up 48-14, Nick Saban had seen enough. As is his custom this season, he pulled Tagovailoa to allow Hurts to get some snaps.

Tagovailoa may be the best college quarterback witnessed personally. He's definitely the best true sophomore. It doesn't hurt that he has a great offensive line that protects him like he was the combination to the lock at Fort Knox.

It would be hard to say this is the best team Saban has had at Alabama because he's had more than his share of great teams, but it would be hard to find a better offensive unit.

Tagovailoa made it look easy and yet, the first half kept the 49,723 actual fans on their feet and yelling. It didn't feel like a 27-point deficit.

Two 75-yard touchdown drives led by Ty Storey will do that. He had a great afternoon against a great defense, finishing 25-of-39 passing for 230 yards and 2 touchdowns. He grew up while under fire all day.

Also, the Hogs lost two fumbles, the second at the goal line. The Hogs had driven from the Bama 43 after the Razorback defense stuffed the Tide for no gain on a fourth and 1 early in the second quarter.

Tagovailoa trotted on the field after the fumble recovery, shrugged and drove the Crimson Tide 99 yards in just five plays. His three pass completions accounted for 81 of the yards, including a picture-perfect 42-yard touchdown pass. That made it 28-7, but the loud crowd continued to roar for the home team.

Obviously the Tide are more than just one quarterback, and that's the reason Alabama is No. 1 and the favorite to repeat as national champions. But it wasn't a loss that should hurt the Hogs.

Not talking about a moral victory, but it was an effort that makes the second half of the season a little sunnier than it seemed after losses to Colorado State and North Texas.

Against the heralded Alabama defense, the Razorbacks had 22 first downs, 405 yards of total offense and scored on five out of six drives into the red zone.

It was an entertaining game, one in which the Razorbacks played with all their heart against a great team.

Sports on 10/07/2018

Print Headline: Hogs have reason for optimism rest of season

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