By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
For all the turmoil Arkansas has been through this year, it’s still been able to count on Tyler Wilson.
The senior quarterback is missing some big weapons in the receiving corps, namely Joe Adams and Jarius Wright, who are now in the NFL. And yet Wilson remains one of the SEC’s elite QBs.
His Razorbacks (4-6, 2-4 SEC) head into Starkville on Saturday to take on MSU (7-3, 3-3).
In nine games – he missed the 52-0 loss to Alabama due to a concussion – Wilson has completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,803 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Those numbers are a little of last year’s pace, but all things considered, he’s performed well in the eyes of both his coach and this week’s foe.
“He’s done a much better job this year than even a year ago because of the fact he has not had that group to throw to,” said Arkansas coach John L. Smith, who took over after Bobby Petrino was fired for his off-field behavior.
“Losing Joe Adams and Jarius Wright, that changed it a lot, two really good NFL football players,” MSU cornerback Johnthan Banks said. “They’ve got some young guys filling that role. If you don’t go out to play, no matter who you put out there, you’re going to get beat.”
Banks knows of what he speaks. Last season in Little Rock, Wilson lit up the Bulldogs for 365 yards and three touchdowns, completing a school-record 32 passes in a 44-17 trouncing.
“We didn’t go out and do what we had game-planned,” Banks said. “This year I think it’ll be a whole lot different. We’ve got older guys in the secondary.”
Wilson’s top target this season has been Cobi Hamilton, who leads the SEC with 1,149 yards on 73 receptions. The second-leading ball-catcher is tight end Chris Gragg (22 catches, 289 yards), and he’s missed five games with injury.
Last season, Arkansas had four players with 500-plus receiving yards. The Hogs hoped that the loss of Adams and Wright would be eased by a better rushing attack, because tailback Knile Davis was returning from an ankle injury.
Davis rushed for 1,322 yards in 2010, but this season he’s had only 340 yards on 100 carries.
While some weapons are missing, there’s nothing wrong with Wilson’s skill level. He had four games of 300-plus yards passing; he has three this year with two games left.
NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper of ESPN.com ranks Wilson as the third-best senior quarterback in the country.
“They have very solid receivers, and he’s going to put the ball where it needs to be to be caught,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “He makes great decisions, he gets the ball out of his hands, and he’s very accurate getting the ball to those receivers.”