Arkansas expects spark from Wilson against Rutgers
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP)
Tyler's Wilson called an unscheduled news conference last week following the crushing 52-0 loss to No. 1 Alabama and spoke to his teammates, coaches and fans.
That the Arkansas quarterback didn't play in the game because of a concussion didn't matter. The senior had long ago assumed the role as leader of the Razorbacks, particularly after former coach Bobby Petrino's firing in April, and he felt like it was time to lead - especially with the season appearing to slip away.
Wilson was bluntly honest in his assessment Arkansas' performance against Alabama, a loss that followed a shocking overtime defeat to Louisiana-Monroe the week before. The Arkansas native called out teammates for giving up against the Crimson Tide, and he promised to do his best to return to the field as quickly as possible.
''I'm an Arkansas kid,'' Wilson said. ''I know how much it meant to me growing up, to a lot of you guys in this room and to a lot of the fans in the stands to see that display out there on the field, the product we displayed.
''... And I wanted everybody to know that that is not acceptable here and going forward we are going to do the best we can.''
Wilson will indeed make his return on Saturday when the Razorbacks (1-2) step out of conference play to host their first meeting with Big East member Rutgers (3-0). Last season's first-team All-Southeastern Conference quarterback was cleared by doctors on Thursday, and he's being counted on to do nothing short of save Arkansas' season.
The preseason hopes of a national championship and Heisman Trophy are all but gone, but Wilson feels like he and his teammates still have plenty to prove.
''You're dealt the card you're dealt,'' Wilson said. ''I didn't expect to have a concussion in the second game. I didn't expect to have certain things happen.
''But at this point, I still think there (are) a number of things attainable. I feel like we can get back on track. It starts tomorrow.''
The Razorbacks face a difficult task against the Scarlet Knights as they attempt to regain the form that had them ranked No. 8 just two weeks ago.
Rutgers, which opened conference play with a 23-13 win over South Florida on Sept. 13, was 12th nationally in total defense last season, fifth in scoring defense. The Scarlet Knights, led last season's Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year Khaseem Greene, are once again No. 12 in total defense so far this season - allowing 249.3 yards per game.
Greene has reached double-digit tackles in each of his last five games, and the senior linebacker also has a pair of quarterback sacks this season. The Scarlet Knights, who use a variety of blitz packages, have seven sacks as a team through three games - and coach Kyle Flood knows they'll need every bit of that pressure to slow down an Arkansas offense that led the SEC in total offense and scoring last season.
''I think they are just a dangerous team in general regardless of what their record is,'' Flood said. ''They are as physically talented a group as any group we'll play all year.''
Flood said Rutgers prepared all week as though Wilson would play for the Razorbacks, so Thursday's news of his return came as no surprise.
The Scarlet Knights are also counting on their offense, led by running back Jawan Jamison, to help keep Arkansas' offense off the field. Jamison had a school-record 41 carries in the win over South Florida, and his 161 yards rushing was the fourth straight game the junior has broken the 100-yard mark.
Receiver Tim Wright also set career bests with eight catches for 125 yards in the win, and the 6-foot-4 senior could pose a matchup problem for a Razorbacks defense that has allowed 284 yards passing per game this season.
A win would give Rutgers its first 4-0 start in six seasons, and the optimism surrounding the program in Flood's first season is far different from that at Arkansas, which has struggled to gain momentum in its first season after Petrino's firing.
John L. Smith was hired on an interim basis to replace Petrino, and the former Michigan State and Louisville coach had no problem with Wilson's strong comments after last week's loss.
''What I took from what he was saying was `We all have to look in the mirror, we all have to be accountable, we all have to do our job, and I'm going to make sure I do mine,''' Smith said.
''I think if everybody takes that away and goes to the field, which hopefully we have done that this week, then it's a pretty darn good message.''