FOUR DOWNS – ARKANSAS VS. ALABAMA NOTES
1. Smith Mum On Wilson
Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson’s availability for Saturday’s game against top-ranked Alabama remained uncertain Thursday, although coach John L. Smith said the senior did not participate in the Razorbacks’ final practice of the week.
Smith, who said earlier this week he was holding out hope Wilson could return from a hit to the head that knocked him out of the Louisiana-Monroe game. He did not reveal much information after Arkansas wrapped up their closed practice Thursday.
“I’ve got no answers,” Smith said. “Nothing for you today.”
Smith, defensive coordinator Paul Haynes and several players confirmed Wilson participated in Wednesday’s practice and said he looked good throwing. Smith was asked how Wilson was able to practice Wednesday, but couldn’t Thursday.
Smith’s answer: “He was busy.”
Smith later said Wilson did not suffer a setback.
Arkansas continues to prepare backups Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell to play against the Crimson Tide. Neither has started at quarterback in their Arkansas careers, although Allen played the entire second half of the ULM loss. He completed 6 of 20 passes for 85 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Smith said both quarterbacks have handled the responsibility of preparing for a start against an Alabama defense that is ranked among the nation’s best. Smith did not say which quarterback would get the start if Wilson can’t play Saturday.
“I think they’re both right there right now,” Smith said. “Tied.”
Smith said the latest Wilson could be cleared to play against the Crimson Tide would be today. At that point “a decision has to be made” for Saturday’s game.
“He had a great day (Wednesday). He threw it around. He felt good,” Smith said. “It was very positive. We’re just going to have to wait and we’ll get word.”
2. What Happens Out Wide?
Arkansas will need help from other receivers with Mitchell spending most of his time at quarterback this week. Receiver Cobi Hamilton and tight end Chris Gragg remain the top targets, but Smith also pointed to freshman Mekale McKay.
“We’re going to count on Mekale McKay,” Smith said. “That guy, he gets better every week. He’s very talented. He’s not the only one. The others have stepped up as well.”
McKay caught two passes for 74 yards and a touchdown against ULM. The Razorbacks also got a touchdown catch from Julian Horton in the ULM loss and Smith said the junior could get more opportunities Saturday.
“Horton, I think, is really trying to push his game to where we take more notice and it gets more plays,” Smith said.
3. Stomach Bug
Smith said starting tackle Brey Cook was slowed this week because of the stomach flu. But Smith said Cook did not miss much time because of the illness.
“He did a great job fighting through it,” Smith said. “He’d go to the sideline and throw up and come back and continue to practice, which is good to see. … So we have a little bit of that going on, but it’s been a good week for those guys.”
Senior Jason Peacock is Cook’s backup at the tackle spot. The two split time during the ULM game and Smith said Peacock had a “pretty good week.”
“Hopefully we’re getting a little bit more competition there,” Smith said. “Jason is bouncing back and have to keep working on him, but it’s been a pretty good week.”
4. Extra Points
Smith indicated Arkansas will use a four-man rotation at cornerback with Tevin Mitchel sidelined. Kaelon Kelleybrew and Darius Winston have “separated themselves,” while freshman Will Hines and redshirt freshman Davyon McKinney should get work. Arkansas also has prepared freshman Jared Collins just in case. … Smith said Arkansas has been trying to work freshmen linebackers Otha Peters and AJ Turner “as much as possible” in practice. Neither freshman played in the ULM game, while Tenarius Wright and Alonzo Highsmith logged most of the snaps at linebacker. … Former Arkansas C Jonathan Luigs will be the honorary captain for Saturday’s game. Luigs played at Arkansas from 2005-08 and was won the Rimington Trophy, which is presented to the nation’s top center, in 2008.
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau