FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Bret Bielema has become all too adept at dealing with painful losses during his short time at Arkansas.
They haven't become any easier to handle for the second-year Razorbacks coach, who fought back tears after a 14-13 loss to No. 7 Alabama on Saturday night.
The loss was the 15th straight in Southeastern Conference play for Arkansas (3-3, 0-3 SEC), a stretch that includes 12 in a row under Bielema. The Razorbacks have improved drastically since last year's winless run through the SEC, but Saturday was their second straight disheartening loss in a row — following an overtime defeat to Texas A&M.
"The part that kills me is for my players, their families," Bielema said with a wavering voice. "Because they are winners. I can't give them a 'W' ... They're getting frustrated. It is very frustrating for me."
Arkansas lost by identical 52-0 scores to the Crimson Tide (5-1, 2-1) in each of the past two seasons, but it outplayed Alabama for much of the game on Saturday — outgaining the Crimson Tide 300-145 through three quarters.
Brandon Allen was 21-of-40 passing for 246 yards for the Razorbacks, but his late interception helped seal the comeback win for Alabama.
"We're so close," Allen said. "There are so many just little things throughout the whole game that we could've done better to win that game. And it's just disappointing to leave those things on the field."
Blake Sims finished 11 of 21 for 161 yards for the Crimson Tide — including a 22-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Yeldon in the second quarter.
Alabama was outgained 335-227, fumbling four times on special teams along the way. But Sims' 6-yard touchdown pass to DeAndrew White in the fourth quarter gave the Crimson Tide the lead for good and helped ease any leftover pain from last week's 23-17 loss at Mississippi.
"I think the thing that motivated us, helped us play so hard this week, was the loss (to Mississippi)," Sims said. "The loss hurt us so bad, because we knew we (were) probably better than the other team."
The Crimson Tide, stymied offensively for much of the first three quarters, trailed 13-7 entering the fourth quarter.
However, it avoided a second straight SEC loss — which hasn't happened since Nick Saban's first year as coach in 2007 — thanks to a defensive effort that limited Arkansas to 5 yards rushing on 13 carries in the second half.
"Obviously, our team was very disappointed and responded well, I think, to what happened a week ago," Saban said. "It's tough on the road in this league, and our division is really, really difficult. There's no easy games."
Despite a pair of lost first-half fumbles, including one by running back Kody Walker inches before he crossed the goal line for a touchdown, Arkansas took a 13-7 lead in the third quarter when Allen connected with tight end A.J. Derby for a 54-yard touchdown.
Sims rallied the Crimson Tide early in the fourth quarter, rolling out to the right before looking back to the middle of the end zone and finding a wide open White for the touchdown. Adam Griffith's extra point put Alabama up 14-13, a lead that the Crimson Tide defense held.
The win is Alabama's eighth in a row against Arkansas, which hasn't won an SEC game since 2012 against Kentucky.
The Razorbacks, who entered the game leading the SEC in rushing with an average of 316.6 yards on the ground per game, had 84 yards rushing in the first half — sparked by 78 yards on 16 carries from junior Jonathan Williams.
However, led by linebacker Reggie Ragland's 12 tackles, the Crimson Tide shut down Arkansas in the second half.
Landon Collins had the late interception to help secure the win for Alabama, snaring an Allen pass that was intended for Williams — who had a clear path to the end zone — out of the backfield.
"My teammates told me nobody was there, so I had to make a play," Collins said.
Arkansas had a pair of kicking miscues in the first half, a high snap that halted a 43-yard field goal attempt and a blocked extra point by Jonathan Allen.
The plays were just enough to lift Alabama and keep the Razorbacks in search a breakthrough win.