LITTLE ROCK — The only drama in Arkansas’ season opener involves numbers.
How many passes will Tyler Wilson throw and complete? What about Brandon Allen?
Under the quarterback column are subheadings enumerating passes caught by Cobi Hamilton, Chris Gragg, Brandon Mitchell, and the all-encompassing players to be named later.
How many times will Knile Davis carry the ball? Dennis Johnson? Ronnie Wingo?
Also worth calculating are the contributions of running back Jonathan Williams and wide receiver Mekale McKay, both freshmen.
In addition to production from the individuals, there are team-generated stats to be contemplated.
How many first downs will the Razorbacks make against a defense that carried Jacksonville State to a share of the Ohio Valley conference title last year, but has only four starters returning?
Total yardage could be more meaningful than first downs, particularly if Arkansas makes lots of big plays as expected. The Gamecocks are in the Football Championship Subdivision. In the FCS playoffs last year were the likes of Stony Brook, New Hampshire, and Wofford, none of which could compete with a team expected to challenge in the Western Division of the Southeastern Conference.
Getting specific about the numbers is a giant guessing game, but the 2011 season opener against Missouri State is a guide.
A year ago, Wilson completed 18-of-24 for 260 yards in the 51-7 rout. This evening, he will throw less, but gain more yardage.
“This is a statement game for us,” he said. “ … and we’re going to put on a show.” In light of that promise, an 85 percent completion rate sounds right. Make it 17-of-20 for 302 against a defense that includes a senior walk-on at one cornerback and probably a true freshman at the other.
Good luck to them.
Mitchell was 10-of-11 as Wilson’s backup against Missouri State. Allen will get a few more opportunities than Mitchell, but also complete 10.
Last year, senior Jarius Wright was the leading receiver with six receptions and Gragg was next with four. Four others had three catches each. Put Hamilton and Gragg down for a total of 10, split evenly. Mitchell will be next with four, followed by McKay with three, including one bomb. Wingo is good for two on the wheel route. Four or five others will divide the remaining eight.
Looking back, it was a surprise that Wingo and Kody Walker had a total of 20 carries in the 2011 opener. Davis was severely injured and Johnson sat with lesser ailments.
Davis probably won’t get 10 carries today, but his average will be a lofty 7.5 per try. Put Johnson down for eight for 56 and Wingo six for 36. Williams will steal the show with six for 100-plus, including a long-distance TD.
Arkansas had 24 first downs vs. Missouri State and a repeat is on tap. The difference is that the Razorbacks made 466 against MSU and will add 100 to that vs. Jacksonville State.
One defensive stat likely to take a hit is the rushing yardage allowed. Missouri State had 84 on 31 carries. Jacksonville State has a good tailback in Washaun Ealey, who made 87 against Arkansas playing for Georgia in 2010, and who topped 1,000 yards last year. “We have never had one better or as good,” said coach Jack Crowe, entering his 12th year at Jacksonville State.
The fact that Arkansas’ linebackers sat out much of the contact in fall practice might show up as missed tackles. Give Ealey 23 carries for 86 yards.
The imagined statistics are for fun; the score provides the meaningful numbers. On that front, Arkansas 52, Jacksonville State 13 was the pick for Hawgs Illustrated and that should be close.
For those with a deadline and a 6 p.m. kickoff, the sought-after number is 2:52, the elapsed time of the Missouri State game.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.