|Arkansas coach John L. Smith watches as he endures the worst loss of his career. (AP)|
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- John L. Smith's best weapon this week was the injury report. Updates emailed and words spoken that dangled the possibility -- however slight -- that quarterback Tyler Wilson would play against Alabama.
Day to day? Questionable? Game-time decision? The spry 63-year old slow-played football's version of a miracle cure. Wilson, the SEC's best quarterback in a perfect world, even warmed up fully padded like he wasn't concussed.
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It was the kind of gadget play the Arkansas coach used to be known for back in the day, in his prime. This one was a first -- the ol' hidden quarterback injury trick. It might have worked, too, if Wilson and the Hogs actually did not have to play.
Turns out gamesmanship runs a slow 40.
So do a lot of Hogs, it seems. Alabama's 52-0 victory was as impressive as Arkansas' future is dreadful.
"Do I feel that we, at times, gave up out there?" Wilson said. "Absolutely."
That was the gist of Wilson's 67-second statement to the media, without taking questions. What else were we going to ask? A moment later, Wilson's opinion was backed up by defensive tackle Alfred Davis.
"It did, towards the end, feel like that," he said. "We fought, and we fought and we fought and it got out of hand. Some guys did kind of loosen up and lighten up."
There is your snapshot of the next couple of months inside the worst disaster of the early season. Arkansas has gone from the bottom of a ravine to the top 10 and back down again, enduring the program's worst loss in seven years.
The postgame was spent promising how the locker room was going to stay together in the future than how it fell apart out on the field on Saturday. A program with a glorified interim coach, minus its starting quarterback, looks like this. Now the question is whether a senior-heavy team does start splitting apart and a staff hired by Bobby Petrino starts using the office fax machine to send out resumes.
"It sucks to see people not do their jobs and things go wrong," Wilson said. "As a leader at this point, you've got to look forward. There's been a lot of people jump off the bandwagon and it is my job to keep everyone in this organization and this team in the locker room together."
That's got a bit of a Tim Tebow-after-Ole-Miss ring to it except that 2008 Florida team won a national championship. Tebow's words are etched in metal on the side of the Swamp. Arkansas is stuck in something just as sticky and murky.
There are 13 offensive goals for each game on one side of the Arkansas meeting room. Stuff like 300+ passing, 175+ rushing. The Hogs didn't achieve one of them. Not one. Wilson meant well by calling out his teammates but the ultimate question is: Would he have made that much of a difference?
"It's so vital to our football team to have him out there," Smith said. "I think it's vital for the fans to see him out there to see that he's OK. He just wasn't OK for this game."
We/they/Alabama all played along with Smith and his injury updates this week because, really, there was nothing else to do. Keeping hope alive was the equivalent of throwing on every play, down 52-0. Arkansas didn't even do that Saturday once the game got out of hand, giving up and giving in.
"I don't know what to say," a flustered Smith said. "I didn't know what to say to our team as well. It's kind of hard to say anything at this point. That's about as bad as I can remember."
So bad it was the worst loss of Smith's career.
We/they/Alabama all played along until the moment Wilson put on a headset seconds prior to kickoff, officially blended into the sideline, finally sitting this one out.
Joe Namath had more of a chance to play in this game than Tyler Wilson. Everyone had to know it -- teammates, Nick Saban, scores of media who dutifully reported this trumped-up drama. Wilson is concussed or something close to it. Starting quarterbacks don't go to specialists to have their heads checked on Thursday and then play on Saturday.
A season that looked so promising on April Fools' Day remains wrecked by that fool Bobby Petrino. His morals had as much to do with embarrassing the Hogs on Saturday as Alabama.
Face it, Hogs. Smith remains the best option to a messed up situation. You're going to have to live with him. The Hogs might not be 1-2 at this point, but Petrino probably wouldn't have beaten Alabama on Saturday either.
It's the degree of the beating that stings. Alabama forced five turnovers. The Tide has held opponents scoreless for more than nine quarters, pitching consecutive shutouts. They are in the process of draining the excitement out of the national championship race before October.
So, yes, Smith will last the season until the football becomes so rank that it starts to affect recruiting. Even then, the options are limited.
Promoting an assistant wouldn't have worked because, well, did you pay attention Saturday? Running backs coach Tim Horton's crew produced 58 yards on 37 carries. It seems that defensive coordinator Paul Haynes wouldn't have been a good idea. The D has allowed 1,300 yards in three games.
Bringing in an outsider would have meant Jon Gruden leaving Monday Night Football or Mark Hudspeth leaving Louisiana-Lafayette after a year or Butch Davis ... ah, never mind. There just wasn't much there.
This being the SEC, Alabama wasn't going to show any pity. Saban made sure of it, challenging a call that led to an Arkansas fumble and kept the shutout intact. The Tide enjoyed their biggest SEC win since 1979. These Hogs have been outscored 79-10 since leading Louisiana-Monroe last week. Alabama has handled Arkansas by a combined 90-14 in the last two meetings. Again, does one quarterback mean that much?
It's just that no one thought Arkansas would be this bad, that they would basically be called quitters by their teammates. The offensive line has three new starters. (Former) Heisman candidate Knile Davis just isn't the same after coming back from an ankle injury. As for that leaky defense, don't forget that was Petrino's biggest flaw way before he rounded that curve on April 1.
"We anticipate the headaches are going to clear up," said Smith -- speaking only of his quarterback.