FAYETTEVILLE — The concocted question about Tyler Wilson was answered before the kickoff; the legitimate one about Arkansas’ chances against Alabama required 27 minutes of competition.
One national media outlet reported Wilson’s status would be decided at gameime and another said the senior quarterback would start against No. 1 Alabama. On the field in shorts and a T-shirt during warm-ups, Wilson’s pre-game passes said maybe. Be assured, Alabama didn’t care.
Helmet swapped for a red baseball cap prior to kickoff, Wilson was where he should have been, cheering his teammates from the sideline. After all, he was groggy early in the week from a head injury suffered in the loss to Louisiana-Monroe and no game is worth risking the health of an athlete.
Most agreed that without Wilson, Arkansas needed help to be competitive in the fourth quarter. Instead, the Razorbacks did the giving, greasing the path to the end zone for an opponent that would have been difficult to beat if Wilson had been healthy and Arkansas had been turnover-free.
Before delving into specifics of four turnovers in the first three quarters, Arkansas should be complimented for trying a variety of things on offense, including some option with Brandon Mitchell, some I formation, and a trick play involving quarterback Brandon Allen and Mitchell.
Despite the variety and seven completed passes, the offense managed only 44 yards in the first half. Yes, a 31-yard loss on a high snap on a punt contributed and so did a 10-yard loss on a pitch sweep, but the Razorbacks did not have a go-to running play. Looking back, that is the norm for Arkansas against Alabama under Nick Saban. In last year’s 24-point loss in Tuscaloosa, the Razorbacks had less than 20 yards rushing.
Once on an option left on Saturday, two defenders took Mitchell while a third covered the would-be pitch man. On the trick play, Allen fired an overhand lateral to Mitchell, who threw for Ronnie Wingo on the other side of the field. Wingo had the ball until smacked by a defender. The Razorbacks used some I because it is tough enough to run inside against Alabama, but trying to do so without a true fullback is almost impossible.
Arkansas’ defense is not entirely to blame for Alabama’s 24-0 halftime lead or the 38-0 margin less than four minutes deep in the third quarter.
Alabama covered six yards for its first TD and half that for its third TD. The first one occurred after the snap that sailed over the head of punter Dylan Breeding and his attempt to save things by kicking the ball out of the end zone. The other followed Alabama’s second interception of the half.
But, there was never any indication Arkansas could stop Alabama on a consistent basis.
What happened on Alabama’s first touchdown illustrates part of the problem. Converted from defensive end to lindebacker, Tenarius Wright stepped forward on the snap and never touched Eddie Lacy. A quarterback in high school, safety Eric Bennett was hanging on for dear life when Ross Rasner, a linebacker-running back in high school, hit Lacy from the side.
It is also worth noting the play of quarterback A.J. McCarron. Smart and alert, he picked up his second receiver for 13 yards and then anticipated a rush and completed another for 12 more on Alabama’s second scoring drive.
His 11th and final completion in 16 attempts was worth 26 yards to the 1 and gave him 189 for the afternoon. The drive lasted two plays after Dennis Johnson fumbled the kickoff.
At 38-0, Alabama was preparing to kick off when a smart-aleck from Alabama asked if Arkansas could defer. During the final minutes, the in-pressbox discussion was about where 52-0 ranked among Arkansas’ worst losses ever. Those snippets say plenty.
Dare I risk saying all is not lost and that the Rutgers game will define the season.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.