Sep 15, 2012; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback Tyler Wilson (8) breaks during warm ups prior to the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIRE
Fayetteville, Ark. – The University of Arkansas football team is looking for a reprieve of sorts to the start of their 2012 college football season after a 1-2 start and a meteoric drop from national respect in two short weeks this weekend.
Rutgers University is looking to build upon first year head coach Kyle Flood’s 3-0 start and hopes knocking off the Razorbacks, the highest profile team on their schedule, will solidify their team as a Big East contender and Top 25 mainstay for the remainder of the year.
Rutgers has eased into their season with wins against Tulane (24-12), Howard (26-0), and South Florida (23-13). Having already notched two road wins including one Big East conference victory, Flood has the Scarlet Knights on track for a bowl berth that earmarks the end of season success for most programs.
Meanwhile, Arkansas has slammed into the season as loudly as any team in college football history. Three games after the dismissal of former head coach Bobby Petrino the Razorbacks are hitting the panic button instead of the “easy” button.
Arkansas interim head coach John L. Smith has not been able to put a handle on the Razorbacks offense or defense which has led to historic losses and downright poor play on the field.
The Razorbacks are breaking in a new defensive coordinator, Paul Haynes, replacing Willy Robinson. Robinson for all of his faults had the No. 25 ranked passing defense in the nation in 2011 allowing 195.2 yards per game. Haynes secondary has been woeful giving up 284 yard per game ranking their pass defense No. 102 out of 120 Division-I college football teams.
The Hogs total offense finished 2011 as the No. 29 team in the nation under former offensive coordinator Garrick McGee racking up 438.1 yards per game. After three games Arkansas is No. 86. in the nation accumulating 78.77 fewer yards per game for a grand total of 359.33 yards per game.
But salvation maybe at Arkansas’ door step with the return of senior quarterback Tyler Wilson.
The Razorbacks downfall this season can be directly attributed to many on the field issues but the football gods have given Razorback Nation faith that Wilson will be the cure for all Arkansas’ ills.
There is a direct cause and effect to Wilson’s absence on the field. With Wilson on the field Arkansas was in control of their game against UL-Monroe 21-7 at halftime. Since Wilson’s six quarter loss of game time due to a concussion suffered late in the first half against the Warhawks, Arkansas has been outscored 79-10 including a drumming by No. 1 Alabama 52-0.
One can assume with Wilson under center the Razorbacks would have coasted to a win over Louisiana-Monroe laying a trap game for Auburn that the Tigers would not have been ready to defend. Against Alabama the outcome may not have changed but the final score may have been different with Wilson in the game.
All speculation with Wilson calling the plays leads to Arkansas still being in the Top 25 with only one loss and a bright future ahead instead of doom and gloom with a fan base wondering if they will make a bowl game.
Razorback Nation, the Arkansas football team, and especially the Hogs coaching staff had a spring in their step Thursday afternoon once Wilson was cleared to play this weekend by Arkansas medical personnel.
Wilson was able to mask the inefficiencies of Arkansas poor offensive line play and running game in 2011. Will he be able to do the same for the rest of the 2012 season?
Make no mistake this matchup is Tyler Wilson against the Rutgers offense and defense, as it will be more times than not the rest of the year for Arkansas until a running game is established. If Wilson can score at will against the Scarlet Knights he will make the Arkansas defense better while limiting Rutgers scoring opportunities.
Rutgers is a one-dimensional team behind running back Jawan Jamison to date. Jamison enters the Arkansas game as the No. 8 leading rusher in college football posting 373 total rushing yards (124.33 yards per game) with two touchdowns.
The Scarlet Knights rely on sophomore quarterback Gary Nova as their on the field leader. Nova has been solid but not spectacular to start off the season. He has not posted a single game completion percentage above 56 and threw an interception against Tulane and Howard.
In conference play against USF Nova played perhaps his best game as a college quarterback completing 23 of 42 passes for 277 yards with one touchdown and zero picks. Signs of positive things to come for Nova and Rutgers?
Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood enters the game with injury concerns of his own at running back. Jamison, a 5’8”, 200 pound, junior from Starke, FL, had 41 rushing attempts against the Bulls last week. Part of the reason for the heavy load was the lack of depth at running back behind him.
Running backs Savon Huggins and Paul James missed last week’s game due to injury. Huggins is confirmed out for this weekend’s contest while James’ status is still a game time decision.
The one area Arkansas has performed well on defense, all things considered, is stopping the run. The Razorbacks have allowed an average of 153 yards per game but this comes without much help from their offense over the last two games with time of possession.
Nova has big targets to throw to on passing downs, the biggest maybe Brandon Coleman. Coleman, 6’6”, 220 pounds, has proven to be a big play threat for Rutgers anytime he is on the field.
In 2011 Coleman caught 17 passes for 552 yards with six of those going into the end zone. This season Coleman has six receptions and three touchdowns. His yards per catch averages allow him to mock video games statistics. In 2011 his yard per catch average was 32.5. This season he’s being held to 19.7.
Tim Wright has been the go-to receiver for Nova. The 6’4”, 220 pound, senior wide receiver has 13 receptions for 171 yards but has not found the end zone yet this year.
Mark Harrison, 6’3”, 230 pounds, is third on the Rutgers team in total receiving yards, 83, but is tied with Wright for a team-high 13 catches. Look for Harrison to move the chains on short yardage third down pass plays.
Fifth-year senior linebacker Khaseem Greene, 6’1”, 230 pounds, might be the best Scarlet Knights player on defense. Greene has a team-high 34 tackles, 2 sacks for a loss of 14 yards, and 4 tackles for loss totaling 17 yards.
Another fifth-year senior, Brandon Jones has two of Rutger’s four interceptions on the year. Look for him to be opportunistic against Wilson if possible.
Arkansas counters with a running game that has not found its stride to date but has a talented backfield waiting to explode. Knile Davis and Dennis Johnson will split the carries assuming Paul Petrino tries to establish a running game against the Big East opponent.
Davis enters the game as the No. 88 total rusher in college football averaging 63.67 yards per game with a lowly 3.5 yard per carry average. Davis has the speed and talent to ditch his slow start especially if Wilson can open up the defense with his arm.
Rutgers has been stingy against the run but has played two subpar opponents while racking up those numbers- Tulane and Howard.
The offensive line for Arkansas has not showed the grit and nastiness needed to be an effective group on running plays thus far. After humbling talk about their poor play to date, will the Razorbacks offensive line show the fire needed to be a successful team in 2012? More importantly can they keep the Scarlet Knights defense off of Wilson long enough for him to be an impact player on passing downs?
Wilson has one of if not the best pass catching tight end in the nation in senior Chris Gragg. Gragg will benefit from Wilson’s return. In game one Gragg was over 100 yards receiving with multiple scores earning Mackey of the Week Honors for the best tight end in college football.
Wilson is one of a handful of elite college football quarterbacks in the nation. Much like last year the success and failure of the Razorbacks will rest on his rifle right arm.
With redshirt freshman Brandon Allen under center the Arkansas wide outs dropped too many passes some leading to interceptions. Will the receivers regain their focus on the field with Wilson calling the plays?
Arkansas has a very talented defensive line but the line has not been adequately backed up by the linebackers. Senior linebackers Tenarius Wright and Alonzo Highsmith have missed numerous tackles and been out of position more than not leading to big gains for the opposition. Rutgers will pound the ball at Arkansas. Can the Razorbacks limit the Scarlet Knights running game?
Gary Nova might be in position for a national recognition party against the Razorback secondary. Nova has the big receivers to throw the ball to and the Hogs have not shown the ability to defend the pass yet this year.
Arkansas fans have to wonder when offensive coordinator Paul Petrino will set up flare passes to his running backs out of the backfield and quick hit-three step drop passes for Wilson to complete. If the success of one’s team lies in the hands of one player best to make sure that player stays in the game.
Petrino has not shown the ability to change his game plan or offensive plays to match the strengths and weaknesses of his team. Only if there was a head coach to straighten that situation out?
Speaking of Arkansas head coaches, John L. Smith has not seemed to grasp the seriousness of what has unraveled under his guidance. Smith has made a mockery of his role as interim head coach, maybe without realizing it, and the once promising season the Razorbacks had.
Smith still has a chance to right the ship if he has it within himself to really make the changes needed. The big question is will Smith be the head coach Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long hired to guide this team to a 10 or 11 win season or will he continue down the path of a jester in college football’s court of kings in the SEC West?
Wilson is the difference maker and the Hogs get a lift at home.
Statistics of Interest
Arkansas: No. 86, 359.33 ypg
Rutgers: No. 93, 351.33 ypg
Arkansas: No. 93, 436.67 ypg
Rutgers: No. 12, 249.33 ypg
Arkansas: No. 106, 106 ypg
Rutgers: No. 63, 163.00 ypg
Arkansas: No. 49, 253.33 ypg
Rutgers: No. 103, 188.33 ypg
Arkansas: No. 102, 852 total yards, 284 ypg
Rutgers: No. 36, 571 total yards, 190.33 ypg
Arkansas: No. 62, 152.67 ypg
Rutgers: No. 9, 59.00 ypg