Arkansas loses more than a game in humiliating defeat to Alabama
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- About a minute remained in the Great Hog Slaughter of 2012. As Alabama's backups -- and some of the Crimson Tide's backups' backups -- manhandled the Arkansas players on the field, injured Razorbacks quarterback Tyler Wilson turned to Arkansas media relations director Zack Higbee and said, "I've got something."
Wilson watched his team's humiliating 52-0 loss Saturday from the sidelines because of the concussion he sustained a week earlier in the Razorbacks' humiliating loss to Louisiana-Monroe. A team that entered the offseason as a potential national title contender had already lost its coach to a scandal of the coach's making, its starting quarterback to injury and its second game to a paid cupcake. Against the nation's No. 1 team, it seemed to Wilson that the Razorbacks had also lost their will to fight.
After interim coach John L. Smith mumbled some words about trying to keep the team together, Wilson, still wearing the pads he donned as part of the coaching staff's hamfisted ruse, sat down in the team meeting room and faced the cameras. He didn't take questions. And while he didn't read from a statement, Wilson certainly made one.
"Obviously, it wasn't very pretty to watch," Wilson said. "It wasn't pretty for me to sit on the sideline and watch as a player. It sucks I can't be out there to do anything about it. Do I feel that we, at times, gave up out there? Yeah. Absolutely."
Wilson wasn't done, though. "As a leader, it sucks to see people not do their jobs and things go wrong. There's been a lot of things that have gone that way," he said, earning the SEC title for understatement. "As a leader at this point, you've got to look forward. There's been a lot of people jumping off the bandwagon. It's my responsibility as a leader to keep everybody in this organization and this team in that locker room together. I'm going to make sure of it going forward."
The bandwagon is about as empty as the stands were at Reynolds Razorback Stadium during Saturday's fourth quarter. Nine months ago, the Razorbacks dreamed of an SEC or national title. Now, a concussed quarterback is trying to hold the team together.
Wilson might be the only one qualified to call out his teammates. After their performance this week, his coaches certainly can't. It's impossible to know whether things might have turned out differently had Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino not
While it seemed obvious Wilson wouldn't play for most of the week, Smith tried to keep up appearances that he might. Even though a doctor definitively ruled out Wilson on Thursday, the Arkansas staff went to the length of making Wilson dress out Saturday and take warmup snaps with the first-team offense. How do we know all this? Because Smith fessed up Saturday after the loss. "Do you want me to be honest with you, or do you want me to lie to you?" Smith asked a reporter who pinned him down for specifics. "We knew early." Behind the trickery was the hope that Alabama might waste practice time preparing for Wilson. Here's the problem: Arkansas doesn't run a different offense with its backups. Alabama would have prepared for the same offense either way. All the ruse did was tell Arkansas backups Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell that their coaches didn't think they were good enough.
Smith also admitted that he switched long snappers -- from reliable starter Alan D'Appollonio to backup Will Coleman -- during practice this week because he chose the player who could cover punts better. Coleman's second snap Saturday sailed over the head of Dylan Breeding, and Alabama scored an easy first touchdown after taking over on the Arkansas six-yard line. Smith, who served as the Razorbacks' special teams coach on Petrino's staff, should have known that when picking long snappers -- whose mistakes can be among the costliest in the game -- the only criterion that matters is snapping. "I do not blame the young man," Smith said. "I blame myself for putting him in that position." Good. Then the blame is in the appropriate place.
Now Arkansas must rally. Wilson wasn't the only Razorback who thought the Hogs laid down and let the Tide roll. Arkansas defensive tackle Alfred Davis said he thought the effort dwindled "toward the end." "It got worse and worse," Davis said. "Sometimes, that's what happens in football. It turns into 52-0." Especially against Alabama.
Saban wasn't satisfied with his team's performance in a 35-0 win against Western Kentucky. He didn't have to nitpick, either. Alabama gave up six sacks to the Hilltoppers. Saturday, Alabama gave up zero sacks and ran a brutally efficient offense that gained 6.7 yards a play in its most lopsided SEC win since Bear Bryant beat Vanderbilt in 1979. Saban can devote some meeting time to seven penalties for 74 yards, but even college football's biggest perfectionist had to like the way his team played. "What we've really been fighting with this group about ever since the Michigan game is allowing ourselves to accept average and getting them to demand more of themselves," Saban said. "I think we started to gain a little bit today."
While Alabama gained, Arkansas lost more than a game. A loss like this can shatter a team for good. It will be up to Wilson to hold this group together. Wilson's speech sounded eerily reminiscent of Tim Tebow's monologue after Florida's loss to Ole Miss in 2008. That speech was inscribed in stone at Florida Field after Tebow led the Gators to the national title that season. That won't happen with Wilson's speech, but if it inspires teammates and fans to stick together a little longer, count that as a small victory on a day of humbling defeat. "We've got a big game against Rutgers next week," Wilson said. "I'm going to do everything in my power to be a part of it and be the starting quarterback to run out on the field and get a win. You've got to start with one before you get the rest of them. I give you my word I'm going to do the best in my ability and the best in my power to make that happen. That's all I've got."
That's more than Wilson's coach had Saturday. "I really don't know what to say," Smith said. "I don't know what to say to my team as well."
Wilson knew what to say, but will anyone listen?