Oct 6, 2012; Auburn, AL, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback Tyler Wilson (8) hands off a pass to running back Dennis Johnson (33) in the second half at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-US PRESSWIRE
Fayetteville, Ark. – When college football fans look back on the 2012 college football season covering both the Arkansas Razorbacks (2-4, 1-2) and Kentucky Wildcats (1-5, 0-3) fans and pundits alike will comment on what could have been if not for injuries.
Call Saturday’s showdown among the lower tiered teams in the SEC the “Depleted Bowl”, the “What Could Have Been Bowl”, or the “Injury Bowl.” Whatever one calls it both teams will put their helmets on without the full complement of talent each program started the year counting on.
The Razorbacks received more devastating news this week when senior defensive starters Alonzo Highsmith (foot) and Tenarius Wright (shoulder) had season and college career ending surgeries.
Highsmith entered last week’s matchup against Auburn leading the SEC total tackles (51). Wright was fourth on the team in total tackles (28) despite missing the Auburn game due to his injury. The loss of both players will shorten the team’s depth primarily at linebacker for the remainder of the year forcing the Hogs to start true freshman A.J. Turner at weak side linebacker against the Wildcats.
Arkansas will also be without starting tight end Chris Gragg for the third straight game with a deep bone bruise on his leg.
In all the Razorbacks have had 11 starters miss game time; with four being ruled out for the season due to injury.
Kentucky has depth problems of their own on both sides of the ball. Sophomore Maxwell Smith started the year putting up solid numbers for Kentucky in the first three games of the season before a shoulder injury he suffered against Florida and an ankle injury suffered against South Carolina on Sept. 29.
Smith will have season ending surgery to repair a ligament in his ankle causing Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips to rely on true freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow (Prattville, AL). Whitlow has promise as he was rated the No. 12 dual-threat quarterback in the nation in the 2012 national recruiting class.
Phillips will have to bypass Smith’s 68.7 completion percentage, 322 passing yards per game, and 975 total passing yards with eight touchdowns thrown for a freshman starting quarterback on the road against a hungry Arkansas Razorback defense.
Whitlow has played in parts of three games thus far this season completing 46 percent of his passes, with zero touchdowns, two interceptions, and has been sacked nine times. The Razorbacks defense could be a promising sight for the poor offensive numbers put up by Phillips and company.
To make matters worse for the Wildcats they will be starting three freshman secondary players against one of the best passing quarterbacks in the nation in Arkansas senior quarterback Tyler Wilson.
Wilson is second in the SEC in total passing yards (1,571), second in yards per completion (9.1), while sporting a QB rating of 145.7.
Kentucky will be without their early season starting running back CoShik Williams and backup running back Josh Clemons. Williams and Clemson are out for the year with a hip and knee injury respectively. In their absence Raymond Sanders has taken over ranking No. 15 in total rushing yards in the SEC with 303 total yards.
Sanders, a 5’8”, 190 pound junior running back, has been limited in SEC play rushing for an in-conference per game average of 50 yards having only found the end zone twice this season.
The Razorback running game has picked up of late behind the rushing efforts of senior running back Dennis Johnson. Johnson had his best game of the season against Auburn toting the ball 17 times for 76 yards with two rushing touchdowns. Look for Johnson to be able to improve upon those numbers this week against the Wildcats.
The Arkansas defense also turned in their best performance of their season against Auburn totaling eight sacks while picking off the Tigers three times. Auburn was held to 321 net yards of offense by the Hogs surprisingly stingy defense.
Saturday’s affair looks like a one-sided event tilted in the Hogs favor as long as Arkansas does not get sloppy with the ball. The Razorbacks took the ball away from the Tigers five times but still gave two back, a troubling trend throughout the 2012 season.
Senior Wildcat receiver La’Rod King is having a down year due to the swirling quarterback rotation. With Maxwell Smith out Morgan Newton, Jalen Whitlow, and Patrick Towles have not been able to get the ball to their top offensive player on a consistent basis. King has caught seven passes in the last three games for 76 total yards with one touchdown.
Look for the Hogs to further limit King’s opportunities with the return of Tevin Mitchell, the Razorbacks best cover corner.
With three freshman starting for Kentucky in the secondary, Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino will put each through the gauntlet by game’s end if his offensive line gives Wilson protection and time to throw.
Arkansas senior receiver Cobi Hamilton leads the SEC in total receiving yards (663) and total receptions (36) to go along with his four touchdowns. Over his last three games Hamilton has 537 total yards on 26 catches; that is an average of 179 yards and 8.66 catches per game average.
Look for Hamilton to have another 100 plus yard receiving night.
The Razorbacks should improve their overall defensive ranking from No. 110 in the nation (allowing 478.67 yards per game) by the end of the Kentucky game.
Kentucky is gritty on defense allowing 396.00 total yards per game. The Wildcats have not faced a passing quarterback like Wilson. Look for the Hogs to pass the 396 total yard mark with Wilson going over 300 yards by himself.
Arkansas will start two true freshman on defense, corner Will Hines and linebacker A.J. Turner. Each will be tested but both have shown improvement plus Kentucky true freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow is still learning on the job. The Razorback front seven should put enough pressure on Whitlow to keep the secondary from giving up too many big play opportunities.
Arkansas 38 – Kentucky 21
Tyler Wilson is one of the best college football players in the nation. If he is given time to throw and his receivers make plays, he is too much for most defenses to handle.
Tyler Wilson, Cobi Hamilton, and Chris Gragg have only been on the field at the same time a total of three quarters this season.