LITTLE ROCK — Inexorably linked to team accomplishments, individual awards in the SEC are taking shape without Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson or running back Knile Davis.
A month ago, their defections were unthinkable.
During the preseason, the All-SEC quarterback debate started with Wilson and Georgia’s Aaron Murray and the running back discussion began with Davis and South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore, with room for Mike Gillislee if Florida was committed to running the ball.
Not entirely their fault, Wilson and Davis have put up numbers that are below average for them.
A 63 percent passer in 2011 with 24 touchdowns and six interceptions, Wilson is 50 percent in his last two games, including 6-of-19 in the fourth quarter at Texas A&M. Interim head coach John L. Smith said he thought about playing freshman Brandon Allen, but felt the final period was an opportunity for the first-team offense to record needed positives.
For the year, Wilson is even in touchdown passes and interceptions with four each. He is No. 1 in the SEC with yards per game passing, but No. 9 in pass efficiency.
Davis, who ran for 1,322 yards in 2010 and sat out last year, has yet to top 70 yards rushing in a game. Even if he was clicking off 100 yards per, his seven fumbles would be an indefensible black mark. Davis’ average is 54.6 yards per game, not enough to make the top 15 in the SEC.
With Wilson and Davis out of the picture, the timing is right for the would-be All-SEC performers to make their case. Combined, Georgia at South Carolina on Saturday night and LSU at Florida that afternoon are a perfect platform.
At quarterback, Murray and the Gamecocks’ Connor Shaw are the leaders. If, as usual, quarterback play is instrumental in the outcome of a big game, Saturday’s winner will go to the head of the class. There is an argument to be made for Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, No. 2 in pass efficiency between Murray and Shaw, but he is unlikely to get as many opportunities as his competition.
Arkansas fans would include Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel in the talk, but the Razorback defense contributed to the record-setting performance of the redshirt freshman.
Murray has thrown 130 times and Shaw only 64, but Shaw sat out the East Carolina game and threw sparingly in two other games. Against Missouri and Kentucky the last two weeks, he was a combined 35-of-39. He also had 31 carries for 117 yards in those two games and ran for 92 in the season opener against Vanderbilt.
Before the season, Shaw was the pick to be the SEC quarterback with the break-out season and his team was the choice to win the Eastern Division because Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell had transferred. Since the emergence of freshman Todd Gurley, nobody has mentioned Crowell.
Gurley’s 107 yards per game is best in the SEC, but it is his 7.9 per try that is the magnet. Much of that average involves numbers compiled against Buffalo and Florida Atlantic and anything better than 4.0 vs. South Carolina would be a surprise. The Gamecocks are No. 2 in the SEC in rushing defense, allowing an average of 2.2 yards per play.
Meanwhile, Lattimore looks better every week.
No. 3 on the defense-against-the-rush list — everybody knows Alabama is No. 1 — is LSU, allowing 2.7 yards per try. Considering the play expected from Murray and Shaw vs. that of Florida quarterback Jeff Driskell, Gillislee is the running back with the heaviest load. A senior who carried only 145 times in three years and never more than 18 in each of the last three games, he may take a beating on Saturday.
By late Saturday, Shaw, Lattimore, and Gurley will be the leaders in the clubhouse.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is email@example.com. Readers also can follow him on Twitter @harrykingsports.