FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson rejoined his teammates on Sunday, attending a team meeting as the Razorbacks began picking up the pieces from the 34-31 overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe.
It’s not clear whether Wilson will be with them on the field against Alabama, though.
Wilson’s availability for Saturday’s game against the top-ranked Crimson Tide remained in question Monday, two days after the senior left with a concussion. Arkansas coach John L. Smith said Wilson is experiencing “grogginess” after being knocked out late in the first half, leaving the Razorbacks to prepare backups Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell for playing time against Alabama.
“He will not go to the field until the doctors, of course, OK him and that he’s symptom-free,” Smith said. “That being said, we’re making preparation with Brandon and Brandon at quarterback, which we have to do at this point.
“We have to kind of assume, and if we get Tyler back, then it will be icing on the cake for us. So that would be good.”
Wilson’s importance to the offense is no secret. The 2011 All-SEC quarterback has completed 30 of 47 passes for 563 yards with five touchdowns and an interception in six quarters. Arkansas’ offense sorely missed his leadership against ULM.
Allen came off the bench and led the team to a touchdown drive on his first possession, but Arkansas couldn’t move the ball the rest of the game. The redshirt freshman — in the first significant playing time of his Arkansas career — went 6-for-20 for 85 yards with a touchdown and interception against ULM.
Tight end Chris Gragg didn’t place blame on Allen, though, saying the late-game woes weren’t the quarterback’s fault. He said Arkansas will be prepared for the Alabama defense whether Wilson, Allen or Mitchell starts under center.
“Tyler is our leader and I know if he can’t be out there he’s going to lead as much as he can in that quarterback room, getting those other quarterbacks ready to go,” Gragg said. “We’re going to ride with Brandon Allen or whoever is at quarterback.”
But Wilson’s uncertainty only adds to the enormous challenge facing Arkansas, which is trying to rebound from last week’s embarrassing loss. The Razorbacks will play without fullback Kiero Small (broken foot) and Kody Walker (broken leg), who are out for the season. Cornerback Tevin Mitchel, who was hospitalized two nights after a scary helmet-to-helmet collision, won’t play either, although Smith said the sophomore has received “very positive” word there’s nothing wrong.
Smith, Gragg and safety Ross Rasner spent most of Monday’s press conference recounting the injuries and issues that plagued the Hogs in the loss. They also were adamant the season isn’t a wash after one loss. Each pointed out Arkansas still had its goal of winning the Southeastern Conference championship intact.
“Let’s get our chin off the ground,” Smith said. “We’re all feeling bad, yes. But hey, it’s not going to be the first time in life that you’re going to feel bad. You’ve going to have adversity all through your life. How are we going to deal with it?”
Gragg referenced the 2006 Arkansas team, which lost its opener to Southern Cal, then won 10 straight en route to the SEC title game. Rasner mentioned Georgia’s success last season, winning the SEC East last season despite starting 0-2.
“That is our ultimate goal,” Rasner said of the SEC title game. “We feel like we can still be where we planned to be at the beginning of the season.”
The task won’t be easy against Alabama, which has won five straight against Arkansas. It includes last season’s 38-14 win in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where Wilson absorbed a myriad of punishing hits from Alabama’s talented defense.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said Wilson is “great for our league and he’s great for our fans” when asked about the quarterback’s concussion Monday. He said “we hope he’s OK,” but believes Arkansas will be prepared no matter which quarterback plays.
“They have a very, very good team,” said Saban, who suffered a loss to ULM during his first season at Alabama in 2007. “They had some very difficult misfortune in the last game that they weren’t able to overcome.
“But we still have respect that we’re going to get their very best performance.”
Allen and Mitchell will likely earn most of the work at quarterback when the Razorbacks resume practice this afternoon. If Wilson can’t play Saturday, Smith said Arkansas would make a decision on who would start later in the week.
Gragg believes Arkansas will be OK either way. But he said Wilson will do everything possible to return to the field for Saturday’s game.
We talked for about an hour (Monday),” Gragg said. “He seems fine. He’s getting back to it. I know he got hit in the head pretty hard. He was watching film. We were talking about the game. What we could’ve did. What we missed.
“So he’s still Tyler Wilson. He wants to get back out there as soon as possible.”