TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- What a difference a week makes.
After a suspect Week 2 win over Western Kentucky -- suspect by coach Nick Saban's standards, not the general public that viewed a 35-0 victory contently -- the No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide had a few things to work on.
"I don't think there's a player on our team that thought that we improved at all from the Michigan game to the Western Kentucky game," said Alabama coach Nick Saban. "We didn't practice very well. We didn't prepare very well. It affected a lot of guys' performance in the game and I think some of them were embarrassed by it, regardless of the score."
Coaches saw a lack of execution in pass protection, a susceptibility to the underneath and intermediate passing game on defense and, still, a lingering suspicion concerning the ability to stop the big play and get in the face of the quarterback. Health was also a concern with two key defenders out and a starting running back who looked far from 100 percent.
By the time Alabama packed its bags and left Fayetteville, Ark., those questions were answered.
Defensive starters Jesse Williams and Dee Milliner played, and played well. Eddie Lacy showed he might be dangerously close to his 2011 form when he showed so much promise as the backup to running back Trent Richardson. The offensive line blocked effectively and the offense as a whole executed with machinelike precision, taking full advantage of a defense that played arguably its best game of the season.
The pass rush that had trouble pulling down the quarterback and creating big plays, showed no such weakness against an Arkansas team without its starting quarterback. Alabama finished the game with four sacks, 10 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles and two interceptions. Most importantly, it kept the potent Razorbacks offense from getting started.
Alabama didn't allow a single play of 20-plus yards from Arkansas. That came after a season opener in which the Tide allowed three such plays, including a 71-yard strike that set up a touchdown.
"We didn't allow explosive plays," Saban said after Saturday's shutout. "That's where we've always gotten in trouble with these guys."
The offensive line, which allowed six sacks to Western Kentucky a week ago, didn't surrender a single sack against Arkansas. The front five manhandled the Arkansas defense, affording AJ McCarron time to pass and giving Lacy and Co. plenty of running lanes to work with, producing 225 yards rushing and 438 total yards of offense.
Lacy had the biggest day of the season, rushing for two touchdowns and thanked his linemen afterward.
"They were locked in, all of them," Lacy said. "They came in with the right mindset and dominated the whole game."
Said Saban: "We did a little bit better job running the ball when we spread them out. We didn't really have a lot of success running it in what I call 'regular formation' early in the game, them loading the box and playing man-to-man outside. We spread them out a little bit and did a lot better job.
"I thought the offensive line did a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage."
While Saban was pleased with the job the line did, he wasn't enamored either.
"We've still got some issues with pass protection at times but we'll work though that," Saban said.
It's only fitting that a coach would look forward to working through the kinks. While the world saw a 52-0 blowout on the road in the SEC, Saban saw what didn't work and what's left to work on.
"We had way too many penalties," Saban said. "That's something that will kill you in a close game, lost us some field position. There were a lot of things we needed to clean up.
"I think this group has to challenge itself to demand more. … We need to continue to improve."