- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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It hasn’t exactly been a fair fight for any quarterback matching up against Alabama’s defense over the last few years.
But a first-time starter pushed into action with only a week to prepare?
Arkansas coach John L. Smith said Friday that it would be a game-time decision on starting quarterback Tyler Wilson, but sources told ESPN.com that Wilson wouldn’t play after undergoing further testing Thursday for his concussion.
Even with Wilson in the lineup last season, he took a beating against Alabama’s defense. Last week, Wilson was knocked out of the Louisiana-Monroe game after taking a shot to the head. The Hogs clearly had their issues protecting Wilson against the Warhawks.
Now comes the ultimate test: protecting whoever’s back there for the Hogs against an Alabama defense that disguises blitzes and generates pressure as well as any defense in college football. So far this season, opposing quarterbacks are completing 53.4 percent of their passes against Alabama’s defense with one touchdown and four interceptions. Last season, in 13 games, opposing quarterbacks completed just 49.1 percent of their passes against Alabama’s defense with six touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.
Even though Wilson wasn’t sacked last season against Alabama, he was knocked around and continually harassed in the Hogs’ 38-14 loss.
Allen and Mitchell might be new at this, but they know what’s coming Saturday. Dealing with it is the hard part. Defenses in this league have long feasted on inexperienced quarterbacks. It’s just part of the drill.
Go back to the Florida-LSU game last season when the Tigers got ahold of Florida freshman quarterback Jacoby Brissett and held him to 94 yards passing, two interceptions and a touchdown.
Allen is a redshirt freshman, so he’s at least been around for a year. He was also a remarkably accurate passer in high school.
Mitchell, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound junior, is the more athletic of the two and a guy the Hogs really like with the ball in his hands. Look for them to have a package ready for him in an effort to help supplement the running game.
Mitchell was Wilson’s backup a year ago, but moved to receiver this season. He’s practiced this week at quarterback.
Without Wilson, it’s unrealistic to think that the Hogs can go out there, throw it around 40-plus times and beat the Crimson Tide.
They’ve got to be able to run the football a little bit to keep Alabama from loading up and coming after the quarterback. In last season’s game, Arkansas was in third-and-10 or longer 11 different times, which is exactly what Alabama does to a team that can’t run the ball. The Hogs finished with 17 rushing yards on 19 carries.
So finding a way to shorten the game, not to mention having some success on first down, will be critical for the Hogs.
That and hoping their defense can keep Alabama from lighting up the scoreboard.
In fact, with so much attention being focused on Arkansas’ quarterback situation now, the truth is that none of it’s going to matter unless the Hogs suddenly find a pulse on defense.
That was the overriding concern in the Arkansas camp before Wilson went down with a head injury, and it’s still the overriding concern.
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