FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson strode into the interview room Saturday after the Razorbacks’ 52-0 loss to No. 1-ranked Alabama at Razorback Stadium. He sat down behind the table and faced the media, which is unusual for a player who didn’t participate in the game.
But the Razorbacks’ team leader wanted to speak.
“I’ll start with the football game. Obviously, it wasn’t very pretty to watch, wasn’t pretty for me to sit on the sideline and watch as a player,” Wilson said, with an edge to his voice. “It sucks I can’t be out there to do anything about it.”
Wilson’s status was the main topic in the build up to the Alabama game. The Greenwood native was knocked out of the game last week against Louisiana-Monroe just before halftime and never returned in the 34-31 overtime loss. School officials termed it “an injury above the shoulders.”
Arkansas kept stressing Wilson was a gametime decision. He warmed up prior to the game, then as Alabama was kicking off to start the game, he put aside his helmet in favor of a cap and headset.
“We didn’t want to tip our hand to anybody and, you know, that’s one of those things we have to do,” Arkansas head coach John L. Smith said. “We just had to hang in there and maybe that disrupted or … it doesn’t look like it now.”
But after the largest shutout loss in Fayetteville by Arkansas, Smith admitted Wilson was never a gametime decision.
“We knew early on,” Smith said. “In our heart, we held out thinking there’s some hope, some hope. But realistically, as coaches, we said ‘He’s not going to play this week,” and you have to face that music early on.”
Smith said Wilson saw a medical specialist on Thursday and hoped to get clearance to play against Alabama. He didn’t.
With Wilson on the sideline, Smith turned to a two-quarterback plan involving Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell.
Allen — a redshirt freshman — wound up getting most of the playing time. He finished 10-of-18 passing, but just for 60 yards with two interceptions. He finished with a 61.3 QB rating. Alabama’s A.J. McCarron’s 11-of-16, 189-yard and one-TD performance was good for a 186.6 rating.
Arkansas (1-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) was 3 for 14 on third down Saturday, while Alabama converted 6 of 11 chances.
“I thought as a team we drove the ball, we drove the ball on a lot of occasions and we just didn’t make the play when we needed to,” Allen said. “Whether it be on third down or something like that. Really to beat a team like Alabama you have to make that play.”
The Razorbacks struggled to hold onto the ball during the rainy game. Arkansas fumbled eight times and lost three. With two Allen interceptions, the Razorbacks’ finished with five of their 13 possessions ending in turnovers. Alabama converted all five of the turnovers into touchdowns.
“Really it came down to us beating ourselves whether it be turnovers or just not making the play when we needed to,” Allen said. “So obviously Alabama is a great defense and they’re No. 1 for a reason. But really, I think we hurt ourselves a lot more.”
Mitchell attempted seven passes and completed just one for 17 yards. But his role was to run a freshly installed option attack. It wasn’t successful against the Crimson Tide defense. Mitchell ran six times for 18 yards.
“It hurts really bad, especially when you look at the offensive side,” Mitchell said. “We’re a school known for a great offense. For us to go up there and only put up (137) yards total that’s just unacceptable.”
Smith said if Wilson isn’t available against Rutgers (3-0), the two-QB system might not continue.
“The two Brandons, we’re going to have to take a look at that,” Smith said. “Maybe one role will expand; maybe one will lessen.”
Suddenly the Rutgers game next Saturday at 6 p.m. (ESPNU) takes on added meaning as Arkansas desperately needs a win. Just like in the days prior to the Alabama game, the focus will be squarely on Wilson’s health.
“The biggest thing is to get him back and get him going … It’s a day-to-day deal, so we’re just keeping our fingers crossed,” Smith said. “We anticipate the headaches will clear up and get him back on the field. He’s got some symptoms. We’re knocking (on wood) and got our fingers crossed that he’ll be back next week.”