October 20, 2013 1:49:45 AM
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- First year Arkansas coach Bret Bielema got an up-close look Saturday at the type of football team he's trying to build.
Bielema, the former coach at Wisconsin, is known for his stout defense and physical run game. He doesn't have that system perfected, but Alabama coach Nick Saban does.
"We're trying to set a high standard for how we play," Saban said. "We came out right off the bat offensively and had a really good first drive and scored the first couple of times we had the ball. I was really pleased with the way we competed in the game."
Top-ranked Alabama played up to that standard, excelling at everything Bielema was known for at Wisconsin en route to a 52-0 victory in the Southeastern Conference game at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Perhaps Bielema is best remembered for his time with the Badgers for his success with two running backs in his offense. It's something he has found success with at Arkansas with Jonathan Williams and freshman Alex Collins.
"Arkansas's players played with a lot of toughness, and it's a physical game," Saban said. "We knew it would be one of the most physical games we've played all year. They've run the ball pretty effectively on everybody."
The roles were reversed, however, as Alabama stuffed Arkansas over and over. Williams and Collins entered the game averaging 183 yards rushing per game, but Alabama held them to 125 yards on 31 carries. They had just 37 yards on 14 carries in the first half.
Meanwhile, Alabama running backs T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake piled up the yards in one of their best performance of the year, rushing 20 times for 192 yards and three scores. They also factored into the passing game, snagging five passes for 56 yards.
While Yeldon came into the season as the feature back in Alabama's offense, Drake has garnered more playing time with each passing week. A sophomore from Powder Springs, Ga., Drake didn't play in the season opener against Virginia Tech University due to a suspension. He made up for that lost time quickly, scoring touchdowns in each of his first three games. He had his biggest game of the year last weekend at in Lexington, Ky, rushing 14 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-7 victory against Kentucky.
Drake entered the game against Arkansas averaging more than 7 yards per carry. He eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the second time on the year, running for 104 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries. Often looking like he had been shot out of a cannon, Drake used runs of 46 and 23 yards to add explosiveness to Alabama's attack.
Through three games in the Southeastern Conference, Drake has 309 yards and five touchdowns on 34 carries.
Not to be outdone, Yeldon rushed for 88 yards on 12 carries. He scored on a 27-yard run in the third quarter. Yeldon also played a large factor in the Alabama passing game, catching four passes for 45 yards.
The two Alabama running backs were physical, breaking tackles at every opportunity. They were quick, finding the sideline and outrunning defenders. They also were versatile, even playing on special teams. It was a page ripped straight from Bielema's playbook at Wisconsin.
"We had a lot of really young guys that didn't really have a lot of starts under their belts," Alabama senior offensive lineman Anthony Steen said of his offensive unit. "The more games we have played, the better everybody felt together, and I think we are getting along just fine right now."
As successful as Yeldon and Drake were, Alabama's leading rusher was freshman Derrick Henry. He used an 80-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter to give him 111 yards on six carries.
While Saban reversed the roles on Bielema with the running game, Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron did the same in the passing game.
The redshirt senior from Mobile, Ala., was 15 of 21 for 180 yards and three touchdowns.
"I really thought the offensive line did a good job of protecting the quarterback. We made some explosive plays in the passing game," Saban said. "We were able to run the ball and we had pretty good balance out there."
McCarron found eight receivers and ended a season long drought by connecting with receiver Amari Cooper for a 30-yard touchdown score. Cooper set several freshman receiving records last season, including 11 touchdowns. The touchdown was the first of the season.
"I think it's important that our team continue to focus on improving. I still don't think we played our best game," Saban said. "It's great that we got to play a lot of players out there tonight. We certainly need for those guys to get some experience. But I think we have to continue to improve."
The 52-0 final duplicates last year's final score when the teams met in Fayetteville, Ark. It also extends Alabama's steak of 368 consecutive minutes without allowing a touchdown at home.