FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach John L. Smith received good news Thursday.
So did the rest of the Razorbacks, who are struggling after two straight losses.
Quarterback Tyler Wilson has been cleared to play against Rutgers.
“That’s every exciting,” Smith said. “And we’re thankful that he is.”
Arkansas’ leader will be back under center for the first time in two weeks when the Razorbacks (1-2) play the Scarlet Knights (3-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday night.
Wilson has been sidelined since suffering a concussion late in the first half of the 34-31 overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 8. It kept him out of the 52-0 loss to Alabama, which was the Razorbacks’ worst Southeastern Conference loss.
It’s no secret his absence was felt. Arkansas has been outscored 79-10 over the six quarters without the preseason Heisman Trophy candidate. So Smith said Wilson’s return was uplifting news for the Razorbacks as they try to snap their slide.
“I think they’re fired up about that,” Smith said. “They realize, ‘Gosh, the whole week of practice, it’s not for naught. He’s really going to be out there.’ … That energy. That postiveness. That vocal person that we need. His energy and that positiveness, it just kind of breeds and it keeps going and it spirals and that’s what we need.”
Wilson — who was the SEC’s first-team quarterback in 2011 — has completed 30 of 47 passes for 563 yards with 5 touchdowns in limited action this season.
He had hoped to return to play against Alabama last week, but couldn’t pass concussion tests. Wilson said he was “extremely optimistic” about his return on Monday and practiced throughout Arkansas’ preparation for Rutgers this week.
He continued to wait for clearance from doctors.
It finally came two days before the game.
So Smith said Arkansas’ goal now must be protecting Wilson against the Scarlet Knights’ aggressive defense, which will test the Razorbacks with blitzes.
“We’re certainly not planning on him getting any direct-line hits,” Smith said. “We have to be able to pick it up. … The other thing is, too, he’s going to have to be able to make sure he makes the checks, and that’s part of our system. He’ll get it checked. He’ll get himself protected. Everybody has to be accountable and make sure we keep the people off of him. But that’s the concern any week, you know?”
Wilson is eager to do his part after watching Arkansas suffer last week’s loss.
His frustration with teammates was evident during an unexpected postgame speech, when Wilson walked into the interview room and said Arkansas “at times gave up” in the loss. Wilson said earlier this week his message was aimed at reassuring Arkansas fans things would be fixed. Some teammates said it struck a nerve.
“Tyler’s a vocal leader, but he’s never been one to kind of get very emotional like he did, and angry, so I think when everyone saw that, they kind of got wide-eyed and said, ‘Wow,’” Arkansas center Travis Swanson said.
Smith said he had no problem with Wilson’s public challenge to teammates.
In fact, he believes Wilson was challenging everyone to be more accountable.
“We know that we have to have him out there,” Smith said. “We know that he is our inspiration, our leader, all of that stuff. He’s wanting everybody. And basically what I took from what he was saying (last Saturday) is we all have to look in the mirror. We all have to be accountable. We all have to do our job. … I think if everybody takes that away and goes to the field, then it’s a pretty darn good message.”
Arkansas especially needs his talents to ignite an offense that has floundered.
The Razorbacks have scored 10 points and gained 245 yards since Wilson’s injury.
The passing attack took the biggest hit with quarterbacks Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell combining to complete 17 of 45 passes (37.8 percent) for 164 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. But the run game hasn’t been much better, managing 81 yards on 48 attempts (1.7 yards a carry). That total does include a 31-yard loss on a bad snap by the punt team in last week’s loss.
“We’ve got to get better,” Wilson said Monday. “We’ve got to do things right.”
The chances of it happening grew Thursday, when Arkansas found out its leader had been cleared and plans to be on the field against Rutgers on Saturday.
“Tyler Wilson steps out on that field this team is going to play,” offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said earlier this week. “We’re going to play.”