Originally posted on Talkin' College Football  |  Last updated 9/27/10

The Alabama – Arkansas battle last Saturday afternoon once again illustrated the most consistent and successful plan for teams to win championships—be able to run the ball when YOU want to run it and be able to control the run game of your opponent.  When was the last time a national champion won the title by primarily passing the football throughout the regular season, or one whose defense could not minimize an opponent’s run game?

It sounds relatively simple, but it is very hard to accomplish.

How many times are we impressed by Arena Football-like offensive numbers generated by the passing game?  We all love to hear it and talk about it. You can add Razorback QB Ryan Mallett’s stats to that list.  Mallet put up an incredible first half, 15 – 22 – 250 and 1 interception, but in the end the big picture showed us that Alabama’s run game, and the inability of Arkansas to control it, provided the margin of victory for the Crimson Tide.

People marvel over Mallett’s 6’6 238 pound frame, his classic delivery, and strong arm.  But, it’s Tide QB Greg McElroy who engineers a balanced offensive attack poised to make another run at a national championship.  Thanks to the best two-headed running back threat in the country, McElroy proficiently executes his responsibilities. Against Arkansas he uncharacteristically suffered two interceptions.  But, as a rule, McElroy does just what he has to do, and does it well, to lead the Tide to win after win.

Nick Saban has designed his offensive and defensive units to be physical and effective in the run game on both sides of the ball.  They run it the old fashioned way—with the tailback.  There is not a lot of option from the QB position or a heavy dose of QB oriented run game, which allows for an extra blocker in the person of the running back.  No, Alabama relies on the guys in the trenches and the talented pair of RBs—Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.

Even though Saban’s defending national championship defense lost 8.5 starters to graduation, they have a mind-set and toughness about them that truly says, “We are going to stop the run first.”  The Tide’s young secondary is improving with each game, as evidenced by the 3 INTs vs. Mallett, but the core of the defense—new starters or returnees—all know they won’t get on the field if they can’t stuff the run.

Passing for big yardage is similar to long drives in golf.  We all know that you drive for show and putt for dough.  Well, you also run the ball and stop the run for dough in football.  Last Saturday Alabama rushed for 227 net yards on 40 attempts while the Hogs mustered just 64 net yards on 20 attempts.  That’s an average differential of 5.7 to 3.2.  Arkansas, behind Mallett’s huge first half, totaled 301 yards of offense, but only managed 120 in the second half and they managed a measly 13 second half rushing yards on 7 attempts.  The Razorbacks ran 35 first half plays, but only 23 in the second half as the Tide defense tightened up, whereas Alabama clicked off 37 plays for 181 yards in the same half.  With the Tide’s defense rising up in the second half, along with their offense methodically moving the ball and taking advantage of two Mallett INTs, Alabama held the ball the second half for 19:09 while the Hogs could only hang on to it for 10:51.

When you can run the ball with some degree of effectiveness you can also keep yourself in a better position to move the chains.  Alabama’s offensive attack allowed them to convert a healthy 8 of 14 third down conversions, while Arkansas struggled mightily, resetting the chains on just 2 of 10 3rd down plays.  Tip of the hat to the Tide’s defense.

How do you win championships?  Be able to run the ball when YOU want to, be able to minimize the opponent’s run game, and that also plays into being a good third down team on both sides of the ball.  That was proven once again last week in the SEC showdown in Fayetteville.

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