LITTLE ROCK — Ryan Mallett and his offensive line spoiled Arkansas fans.
An official was marking off a false start penalty against the Razorbacks when an Arkie in the Tuscaloosa pressbox admitted he had no confidence the Razorbacks would convert the first-and-15.
Last year, he felt differently, the man said. His perception was based on Mallett’s ability to make the big throw downfield. Cursed at times for critical interceptions, Mallett could deliver 30- and 40-yard line drives and it is unreasonable to expect Tyler Wilson to do the same.
No college quarterback in the country had a better arm than Mallett. Aware that Mallett could throw a cross-field strike, defensive backs had to stay put, just in case. With Wilson and most any other quarterback, defenders can cheat a bit.
Those who watched spring practice say Wilson can deliver the deep ball. At Tuscaloosa, he had no chance to do so.
The ineptitude of Arkansas’ offense last week goes to two obvious things — Alabama’s superior defense and Arkansas’ lack of blocking, which made it impossible to run and put Wilson in jeopardy time after time.
Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee brought up another element, one that only coaches can measure. Arkansas’ prime-time players, McGee said, "did not come through for us." Their lack of competitive spirit was most disappointing, he said.
He did not name names, but his choice of words implies an indictment of the highly touted wide receivers. Against Alabama, the group had 15 receptions for 114 yards. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was heavily involved, recording six unassisted tackles and breaking up three passes.
Other than LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu, Arkansas will not see a cornerback like Kirkpatrick.
Note that Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden completed 47-of-60 for 438 yards against Texas A&M — Arkansas’ opponent on Saturday in Arlington.
Like the Crimson Tide, the Aggies prefer a 3-4 defense, but Alabama stifled Arkansas without blitzing much and A&M will attack, creating the likelihood that the crossing routes worth five or six yards in Tuscaloosa will be more productive vs. the Aggies. Every time an Arkansas receiver caught a pass at Alabama, his defender would close the gap immediately and make the tackle.
Arkansas’ meager production against Alabama only underlined one of the questions that has been percolating for months — whether the offensive line can block for a running back and protect the quarterback. The knee-jerk reaction is no; the truth is the jury will be out for another month.
Wilson has received kudos for his courage, but his response to an early-game miscue is also to be appreciated. From the Alabama 26, he watched Ronnie Wingo Jr. exploit a huge hole and get into the end zone. Then, Wilson spotted the yellow flag and ripped loose his chin strap.
Although upset about the holding penalty, he did not get flustered, a solid considering he was making his first start on the road and his team already trailed one of the best in the nation.
On second-and-long, he settled for Marquel Wade in the flat for six yards. Next, he completed a 16-yarder down the middle. Wilson finished the 12-play, 63-yard drive with a TD pass. He was 9-of-10 on that possession and his two completions accounted for all 58 yards in Arkansas’ second TD drive.
Wilson did not play poorly in the 38-14 loss to Alabama, but he must have help on Saturday.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is email@example.com.