LITTLE ROCK — Kirk Herbstreit’s synopsis of Rutgers’ football team implied much about Arkansas.
After promoting this week’s college football upset, Rece Davis pitched it to ESPN analyst Herbstreit who said he wasn’t sure Rutgers over Arkansas was an upset, but that was his pick. He went on to cite Rutgers’ leadership and it struck me as an innuendo about whether that quality exists at Arkansas.
Tyler Wilson’s comments immediately after Alabama 52, Arkansas 0 have been done to death. The question is whether the remarks were divisive or whether they spawned unity. The answer should be clear this evening when Arkansas takes on Rutgers. The Razorbacks are not good enough to beat the Scarlet Knights with a fractured team.
It is no coincidence that while the captains were preparing to go onto the field for the coin toss vs. Alabama, the word "Leadership" was on the giant video board. Above the caption, Wilson was the player pictured.
Wilson did not name names in the post-game and said this week that he would never single out an individual, but it is interesting that offensive coordinator Paul Petrino mentioned running back Knile Davis.
"Our best players, those are the guys that have got to take the team and put them on their back and go make a big play, and win," Petrino said.
Arkansas’ list of great players is short. It begins with Wilson and Davis, who said he agreed with Petrino and added, "I need to do something." Davis didn’t have much running room vs. Alabama, but there was a moment in the Louisiana-Monroe game when Davis couldn’t break a tackle on an important third-and-1. An All-SEC running back is supposed to make a yard one-on-one.
For the quarterback, running back and receivers to be in position to win the game, the defense must stop Rutgers on more than a half-dozen possessions. Alabama had two punts and no turnovers vs. Arkansas. Both Jacksonville State and ULM punted seven times, a number that would help immensely vs. Rutgers.
Scoff at a Big East team if you must, but the Scarlet Knights can score. For starters, they can control the ball with Jaiwan Jamison, inevitably compared to Ray Rice because both are short and both strung together 100-yard rushing games at Rutgers. Last week, Rutgers had the ball more than 38 minutes vs. South Florida.
"The formula is our Rutgers formula," said first-year coach Kyle Flood. "We want to run the football, which hopefully will create some one-on-ones in the passing game."
One-on-ones could add up to six points against Arkansas’ secondary, making it incumbent upon the front seven to tackle Jamison and to pressure quarterback Gary Nova. On that front, it is encouraging that South Florida’s outside rushers often beat Rutgers’ tackles.
On defense, Rutgers is aggressive. Promoted to defensive coordinator after Greg Schiano took most of his staff to Tampa Bay, Robb Smith says the game is geared around the quarterback and that the next most important group is the guys "who are trying to eat the quarterback, which is the defensive linemen."
A good SEC offensive line is supposed to push around a defensive front that is 230, 275, 275, and 260 and this would be a fortuitous time for Arkansas to find a running game. Across the front, Alabama started 282, 320, and 286 and Davis made only 59 yards on 20 attempts.
If Wilson has time, the passing game will yield some big plays.
Last month, I pooh-poohed the suggestion that Rutgers would be a "trap" game following Alabama. Because of the loss to ULM, it is telltale.
Don’t be surprised if it is 31-30. The pick is Arkansas, but the previously mentioned score says this is no sure thing.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.