Rutgers game is watershed moment


LITTLE ROCK — Questioning whether a product measures up, the incredulous punchline works for both salsa and college football.

“New York City?”

The salsa thing is subject to a palate test, but there is no doubt that a pretty good college football team is based about 30 miles from the Big Apple.

Once described as a potential “trap,” the Rutgers game on Saturday is the watershed moment for this Arkansas football team.

A loss and the best in the business won’t be able to put a positive spin on the rest of the season. A “W” and the Razorbacks could put together a winning streak that would carry into November.

Quarterback Tyler Wilson is involved up to his neck in the outcome. First, a healthy Wilson is a must. Second, there is the question about whether his post-game remarks will divide his teammates or unify them.

Frustrated, Wilson was blunt with his assessment of the game and might have overstepped. If he has regrets, he can take them up with his teammates in private. By speaking out, he put himself on the spot to produce.

Quotes grow old quickly in today’s world of re-tweets, but Nick Saban’s appreciation of Wilson is worth repeating.

“The whole team is built around the guy in terms of what they do on offense, and they are really good when he’s playing,” Saban said.

As for Wilson’s statement, the most damning quote was, “Do I feel that we, at times, gave up out there? Absolutely.”

He wasn’t specific, but Alabama scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns when Saban was not trying to run up the score. In the final period, Alabama netted 98 yards on 16 running plays even though everybody knew the Crimson Tide was going to run the ball. Armed with that knowledge, even with the game out of hand, you would expect the defense to have enough pride to dig in and stop the opponent.

That point provides a segue to Rutgers’ 10-point victory over South Florida less than 48 hours before the Alabama game. The Scarlet Knights’ resolve was more impressive than 5-foot-8 Jawan Jamison, who is being compared to former Rutgers star Ray Rice, or the fact that the Scarlet Knights have receivers who are 6-3, 6-4, and 6-6, or that quarterback Gary Nova has a better arm than the Louisiana-Monroe quarterback.

On the road, Rutgers messed up often and kept plugging.

In the first half alone, the Scarlet Knights missed a field goal because of a bobbled snap and gave up the ball on a muffed punt. Given opportunities to kick the home team into a hole, the punter failed. Time after time, Rutgers faced third-and-long because the offensive linemen would get penalized.

Near the goal in the second half, Rutgers’ halfback pass was a perfect call except the guy doing the throwing couldn’t decide between two open receivers in the end zone and didn’t find either. On the next play, the Scarlet Knights’ best receiver dropped one in the end zone and they settled for a field goal.

Still, Rutgers was in control until a pass went through a defender’s hands and was caught at the 1 to set up a tying touchdown. Such a laundry list of miscues can sometimes suck the air out of the visiting team.

Not Rutgers.

Even after taking a 16-13 lead, the Scarlet Knights were not out of the woods. The kickoff went out of bounds and South Florida started from its 35. On fourth-and-3 from near midfield, first-year coach Kyle Flood put the onus on his defense. The unit, which recorded three interceptions, responded by harassing a senior quarterback who had accumulated more than 8,700 yards total offense.

Tenacity is golden.

Arkansas had better display 60 minutes worth on Saturday.

Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is hking@arkansasnews.com. Follow him on Twitter: @harrykingsports.