TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Nick Saban could have done without all the drama.
The Alabama coach figures the game-winning drive capped by a touchdown pass with 8 seconds left wouldn't have been necessary without the blown leads, turnovers and 28-point turnaround in Saturday night's 41-38 win over Arkansas.
``I'd like to have the killer instinct before the end so you don't have to go through all this,'' Saban said.
OK, so it wasn't perfect. It was certainly the first big gauge of how far the 16th-ranked Crimson Tide (3-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) have come in Saban's nine months on the job - in attitude and confidence if not talent. Plus, the win vaulted Alabama into the Top 25 for the first time since the final poll of the 2005 season.
It was the kind of game that Alabama might have let slip away in recent years. The Tide didn't manage a fourth-quarter comeback win during Mike Shula's four-year tenure, spanning 49 games.
Last year, Alabama came close against Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma State in the Independence Bowl, only to wind up with another tough defeat each time. Against Arkansas, they blew leads of 21-0 and 31-10. But in the final 4:20, they managed a field goal, a defensive stand and John Parker Wilson's decisive 4-yard touchdown pass to Matt Caddell.
The euphoria is lasting even longer, especially with rival Auburn losing to Mississippi State earlier in the day.
``The fact that we were able to come out and take care of this means a lot for this team and this program,'' defensive end Wallace Gilberry said.
For one thing, it means the Tide's much-questioned defensive front is sturdy enough to keep tailbacks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones from running all over them, even if they finished with fairly typical numbers: 195 and 96 yards, respectively. McFadden had a career-high 33 carries.
``To stop the No. 1 Heisman candidate - not really stop him but beat him. ... To take a win from him was awesome,'' Gilberry said. ``It was definitely one of the biggest wins I've been a part of.''
Saban had no trouble finding things for his team to improve on.
Wilson passed for career highs with 327 yards and four touchdowns and was nearly perfect on the 73-yard winning drive over the final 2:13. But he was also intercepted twice and fumbled away a snap.
Saban said the Razorbacks ``whipped'' the Tide at the line of scrimmage. Not to mention the 28-point surge that pushed Arkansas ahead on Peyton Hillis' 7-yard touchdown catch from Casey Dick with just over 8 minutes left.
``They took advantage of a lot of things that we didn't do correctly,'' Saban said. ``That's something we've got to improve on. Usually it's easy to learn those things in a loss. Hopefully our players have the maturity to learn them in a win.''
The Razorbacks fell from the rankings despite the workhorse performance from McFadden and Dick's three touchdown passes.
``All our backs showed a lot of heart,'' Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. ``They were just playing their guts out. Darren McFadden played extremely well. He earned every yard he got. I just felt like we played well enough to win it.''
It's hardly the first time a Saban team has had a down-to-the-wire game with Arkansas. In 2003, LSU blew a 10-point lead in the final five minutes of a 21-20 loss. In 2001, LSU nearly squandered a 16-point advantage only to win - coincidentally - 41-38 en route to an SEC championship.
``That was one of those great ones, too,'' Saban said. ``I have a history with this team.''
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