Tyler Wilson: Team blindsided
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Tyler Wilson had no reservations about stepping into Bobby Petrino's role.
The Arkansas quarterback made a point to fill any leadership void left in the wake of Petrino's firing, both emotionally and on the field.
Wilson's results, 31 of 41 passing for 467 yards and three touchdowns while leading the Red to a 65-0 win Saturday over the White, bode well for the future of a Razorbacks team still without a head coach.
Wilson told ESPN's Jeannine Edwards on Saturday that the team was blindsided by Petrino's acknowledgement of his indiscretions with 25-year-old assistant Jessica Dorrell. Wilson said when he met with Petrino early in the year to discuss Wilson's options for coming back, one of the reasons Wilson decided to return was to continue with Petrino. He told Edwards that it's disappointing when you trust someone and they let you down.
Wilson also said to his knowledge that no one on the team has heard from Petrino, but he only could speak for himself.
Wilson said he met with Arkansas officials to give his input on the coaching situation, and told them he thinks the team has its best chance at success with the current staff in place. Officials gave him no timetable on when a coach would be hired.
Paul Petrino, the brother of Bobby Petrino and an assistant on the coaching staff, told Edwards that he feels sad and disappointed for his entire family, but he's looking at this as an opportunity, one he hopes to make the most of.
Wilson, a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection last season, made the most of his opportunity on Saturday -- without Bobby Petrino.
The performance also left no doubt that the near future at Arkansas is in good hands with both Wilson and running back Knile Davis.
"(Wilson) is the face of the program in my mind," Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes said. "Tyler and Knile, guys like that, they've proven it so they deserve it."
More than anything Wilson did on the field, however, it was his pregame show of leadership that set the tone -- one he hopes to carry into the future.
As Wilson and his teammates were going through warm-ups prior to the scrimmage, he was approached by strength and conditioning coach Jason Veltkamp.
"Hey, you've got the team after he kicks it here," Veltkamp said to Wilson.
Veltkamp was referring to the final pregame speech on the field to the entire team, one that Petrino had done for the previous four seasons after kicker Zack Hocker's usual field goal attempts.
Petrino was nowhere near the scrimmage on Saturday after his April 10 firing after the revelation that he had hired his assistant to a position in the football program and paid her $20,000 to buy a car. Wilson, however, was -- making it clear who the leader was while standing only steps away from and encouraging Hocker during his attempts and when calling the Razorbacks together following the kicker's final field goal.
An animated Wilson then removed his helmet and spoke to his teammates before sending them to the locker room to complete their preparation -- just as Petrino used to.
"That's a time where usually the head football coach speaks to us and talks to us going into the locker room," Wilson said. "I just said, 'Hey, we're all out here together.'
"... What's great about this program is it breeds leadership."
Once the action started, Wilson once again took charge.
He led the Red squad, made up of Arkansas' first-teamers, on a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open the scrimmage -- capping with a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Chris Gragg.
The fun had just started at that point for Wilson, who was simply trying to earn the starting job last spring. He did that through his offseason and preseason work last year, leading Arkansas to an 11-2 record and top-5 finish -- including a Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State.
The Razorbacks entered this spring with hopes of improving on last season's performance, but those thoughts were put on hold after Petrino's motorcycle crash on April 1. It was revealed less than a week later that the 51-year-old Petrino was riding with Dorrell at the time of the crash -- a fact Petrino failed to tell athletic director Jeff Long and the public when he returned to the job.
Petrino was initially put on paid leave before Long fired him on April 10 for failing to reveal his conflict of interest with Dorrell, who resigned last week.
Throughout all of the daily Petrino soap opera, spring practice continued for the Razorbacks. Wilson had insisted Petrino's firing hadn't impacted Arkansas' work this spring, and he appeared correct Saturday.
Wilson was 26 of 34 in the first half, connecting with Gragg for a 60-yard touchdown late in the first quarter.
While his performance stood out to those in attendance, it was the crowd and show of support that made an impact on the Razorbacks.
Long also was in attendance Saturday and said he expects to conclude his search for a new coach in a matter of "days, not weeks." He also was struck by the record crowd, which came out despite the uncertainty that's followed Petrino's firing.
"I got a little bit of chills down my spine when they announced it was going to be over 45,000," Long said. "I think it sent a strong message that our fans really did come out to support the young men in the program. That's what it's really about."
On the field, Davis caused a bit of a stir early when he stayed on the field for the scrimmage's first play. The running back, who missed all of last season with an ankle injury, hasn't taken part in any contact since returning to practice.
Davis only served as a decoy receiver on the play, however, before returning to the sidelines.
His teammates, meanwhile, took their turns in the spotlight along with Wilson.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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