Arkansas riding momentum of wins into bye week
Garrick McGee openly questioned Arkansas’ competitiveness following a 38-14 loss at Alabama last month that wasn’t as close as the score suggests.
The Razorbacks’ offensive coordinator received an answer the following two weeks — and how.
No. 10 Arkansas (5-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) responded the week following the Crimson Tide loss with a dramatic comeback win from an 18-point halftime deficit against Texas A&M. The Razorbacks followed that by outscoring Auburn 31-0 to close out a 38-14 win last week that provided plenty of momentum entering the team’s bye week.
The wins have also kept Arkansas’ hopes of another BCS bowl game — and maybe, still, an SEC championship — alive.
”I think we’ve figured out that they are willing to compete at this point,” McGee said. ”The one setback that we had, I questioned if we were willing to fight for what we wanted. The last couple of weeks, they have responded to me going after them.
”They have shown me that they’re willing to fight for it.”
The Razorbacks showed McGee that fight in the second half against the Aggies. They trailed 35-17 at halftime, with the defense struggling and their preseason expectations seemingly collapsing for good one week after the Alabama thumping.
Arkansas recovered in the second half, outscoring the Aggies 25-3 behind quarterback Tyler Wilson’s school-record 510 passing yards and Jarius Wright’s 13 catches for 281 receiving yards. The Razorbacks used a similar script last week against the Tigers, struggling early before running away with their first SEC win of the season.
”I definitely feel like we’re still feeding off the momentum of that Texas A&M game,” Wright said. ”I definitely feel like it helped … propel us through the Auburn game and play more physical and outplay Auburn. You know, we’ve just got to feed off each and every week and just try to do the best we can each and every week.”
Arkansas entered the season with questions about an inexperienced offensive line that featured three new starters from last season’s Sugar Bowl team. It also faced the daunting task of replacing Ryan Mallett at quarterback.
While the line has suffered through growing pains, resulting in one crushing hit after another on Wilson, the junior signal-caller has more than proven himself.
Wilson has thrown for 1,779 yards and 12 touchdowns so far, completing 64.9 percent of his throws. Those numbers compare favorably to Mallett’s first six games as the starter in 2009, when he threw for 1,646 yards and 14 touchdowns on 55 percent passing.
”I think he’s off to a good start,” Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. ”Again, we’re working on consistency. We’d like to be more consistent on offense and not have those drives where we’re three-and-out and not converting third downs.
”But he’s shown he can make the throws we need him to make; he’s very willing to stand in there and compete. He’s shown tremendous competitive spirit, which helps him move our offense.”
Despite the success, Wilson still feels like he has room to improve. In fact, he spent time during the second half against Auburn — a game in which he completed 19 straight passes at one point — lamenting several missed throws to McGee.
”It’s pretty good for a first-year starter, if you look at everything on paper,” Wilson said. ”But it’s not about that. I feel like I’ve had opportunities to be much improved from that. …We’re 5-1, and that’s really all I’m concerned about.”
Arkansas opens the second half of its season at Mississippi and former coach Houston Nutt next week. The Razorbacks are likely to be favored in each of their remaining games until they travel to top-ranked LSU on Nov. 25, though they aren’t looking ahead in the least.
”It’s the SEC,” Wilson said. ”You can’t take anything for granted. You can’t say `We’re favored, so that’s a `W,” because it doesn’t work like that. We know we’re going to have to come out and it’s going to be a battle every week.”