02 Sep

Former Star Razorback Quarterbacks: Where Are They Now? Part 1

Don Christian

Don Christian

Statewide celebrity. National acclaim.

Arkansas Razorback quarterbacks know these well. It looks like the next one in line will, too, as starter Brandon Allen completed 15 of 22 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns in Arkansas’ season-opening 34-14 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. Allen has taken the reins from departed star Tyler Wilson, who was waived Sunday by the NFL’s Oakland Raiders and yesterday landed on the team’s practice squad. Former Hog star Ryan Mallett, meanwhile, could be a Tom Brady injury away from calling the shots for the New England Patriots.

While Mallett and Wilson have remained very much in the spotlight, most other former Razorback quarterbacks join the rest of us in our normal, every-day worlds. They work in our offices, sit next to us at restaurants and frequent our favorite golf courses.

They typically don’t end up in far-flung locales. As you’ll see in the following article originally published in Arkansas Life magazine, after leaving the pocket, the most accomplished Arkansas QBs rarely stray far from home:

Lamar McHan
Years Lettered: 1951-53

Directed Otis Douglas’ split-T offense and helped Arkansas beat No. 4 Texas and No. 18 Texas A&M. Finished career as second-best runner in UA history and was ninth in Heisman Trophy balloting as a senior.

After College: Played in the NFL 1954-64 before a career as a coach. Spent a decade as an assistant with the New Orleans Saints. Died in 1998 from a heart attack.

George Walker
Years Lettered: 1954-55, 1957

Led Arkansas to a No. 4 national ranking in 1954, its highest ever until then. Masterpiece came against No. 15 Rice, when he completed nine of 13 passes for 119 yards, returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown and punted six times for a 43-yard average.

After College: Worked with Union Bank in Little Rock, then moved to Pine Bluff in 1963 to join Simmons Bank. Retired as vice president in 1999, but still works for Simmons on ad hoc basis.

Current Residence: Pine Bluff

Note: While I’ve used the term “quarterback” to describe McHan and Walker’s position, a more accurate term would be single wing tailback, says Razorbacks historian Jim Rasco. In an e-mail, Rasco added:

The Razorbacks ran the “Tennessee -Balanced Line – Single Wing” under Coach Bowden Wyatt in 1953 and 1954 (and the January 1, 1955 Cotton Bowl, of course). So Arkansas didn’t have quarterbacks in 1953 & 1954.

In 1953, Lamar McHan came in second in the nation in total offense as the single wing tailback. He was voted second-team All-America in the Players Poll conducted by the Chicago Tribune. (He had been an All-SWC quarterback as a sophomore in 1951 – second team all conference quarterback in 1952 before playing tailback his senior season.)

In 1954, Sophomore George Walker was the single wing tailback and led the Hogs to the SWC crown and a berth in the Cotton Bowl. (His back-up tailback was Buddy Bob Benson –who was the long-time coach at Ouachita.)

Wyatt left for his alma mater Tennessee shortly after the Cotton Bowl – so Arkansas returned to the “T” formation and Walker moved to quarterback for the 1955 season.

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18 Sep

Why Bobby Petrino’s Departure is Ultimately Good News for the Razorbacks

For Arkansas to beat college football’s big boys, it needs a coach who can attract and sign high school football’s big boys. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

With 2:50 left in the first quarter, Arkansas trailed Alabama 7-0 on Saturday. On third down, freshman quarterback Brandon Allen threw a pass to Brandon Mitchell near mid field, but the ball bounced off Mitchell’s hands and appeared to be picked off by Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, who ran it back to the Arkansas three yard line.It wasn’t clear if Milliner had actually intercepted the pass. CBS replays showed the deflected ball wobbling and falling down, down close to the turf, before going up again, scooped up into Milliner’s arms.

The question: Did it hit ground first? At any point, did it bounce back?

Yes, it turned out.

The Razorbacks, though, could be falling for a while.

There were too many loose ends in Arkansas’ 52-0 loss in Fayetteville. Not even a healthy quarterback, cornerback and fullbacks would have tied them.

The game still had not slipped out of grasp in the early second quarter when, down 10-0, from Alabama 42 yard line Allen misread the Alabama defense and forced a deep pass over the middle to tight end Chris Gragg. Safety Vinnie Sunseri – with such a name, I’d expect him to play for Rutgers, the New Jersey school Arkansas plays next – intercepted the ball and returned it 13 yards. Allen, making his first start, could have made the far more simple throw to an open Knile Davis, who would have run it to near the first down marker.

It’s likely Tyler Wilson, Arkansas’ injured star quarterback, would have made the safe throw.

On a pass attempt on the next Arkansas drive, Allen stayed in the pocket a couple beats longer than he should have. He was sacked for an eight-yard loss, pushing the Hogs back to their own 20-yard line and killing the drive.It’s likely Wilson would have gotten rid of the ball quicker.

This isn’t a jeremiad on Arkansas’ unseasoned quarterbacks, who have done about as well as can be expected, all things considered. They had nothing to do with the spotty special teams play. They weren’t going to stop a 6-4, 320-pound Australian defensive lineman named Jesse Williams from putting the entire Hogs’ offensive line on the barbie. They weren’t the ones unable to get around the three preseason All-Americans on Alabama’s offensive line, or wrap up bruising tailback Eddie Lacy behind the lines.

Wilson would not have helped in these departments.

If Arkansas’ entire roster is healthy, it’s good enough to beat the Rutgers, Ole Misses and Auburns of the world – even if the coaching is much worse than it was last season, before Bobby Petrino’s attempted career immolation. Even with Petrino as coach, though, the gap between Arkansas and national front-runners Alabama and LSU was obvious.
15 Sep

No star quarterback, no problem? Arkansas-Alabama echoes Stanford-USC upset in 2007

Arkansas assistant coach Nick Holt has seen plenty go wrong with his team in the last couple weeks.

He’s seen the Hogs lose their top quarterback, best cornerback and best two fullbacks. Then watched a Sun Belt team take full advantage with an upset that many consider the worst loss in program history. And even within the confines of his Broyles Complex office, he’s surely heard something from the chorus of dire prognostications surrounding his squad as it heads into this afternoon’s showdown with No. 1 Alabama.

Nobody outside of Arkansas gives the Hogs much of a chance against the national champions.  If the Hogs couldn’t beat Nick Saban the last two years, when it had a non-stopgap head coach and healthy star quarterback, what chance has it now?

Slim, sure.

But before writing this team off, consider Nick Holt has seen something else.

It happened five years ago, when Holt was coordinating the defense of  powerhouse Southern Cal, a team which shared plenty with these Crimson Tide. USC was essentially the mid-2000s version of Alabama. Like the Crimson Tide, the Trojans had rolled through its first few games as favorites to win another national title.

Like today’s Crimson Tide, the ’07 Trojans had pumped out two national titles in the previous four years, had the game’s consensus best head coach (Pete Carroll) and had just replaced its offensive coordinator (Steve Sarkisian for Lane Kiffin). Like Alabama, USC had also signed enough consecutive top recruiting classes, giving the program more depth than a Darren Aronofsky flick.

It’s unlikely Nick Holt anticipated what would transpire on October 6, 2007, when the unranked Stanford Cardinal came to town. USC had waxed Stanford 42-0 the previous year, and for all the world looked as if it was going to demolish it once again. The Cardinal had lost its first three conference games while breaking in a new head coach and defensive coordinator. It stumbled into the USC game without its senior starting quarterback T.J. Ostrander, who’d been sidelined by a seizure.

What happened?

Kismet, magic, a whole lotta Luck before Andrew – call Stanford’s stunning 24-23 win whatever you want to call it. But in the end, the powerhouse Trojans simply had a really off day – they gave up five turnovers – and the Cardinal played well enough to take advantage. The Cardinal defense, for instance, held stout on a critical fourth-and-goal right before halftime. Although its offense was outgained by 224 yards, Stanford converted its only two fourth down attempts. The backup quarterback came on to complete 11 of 30 passes for 149 yards, but played smartly when it counted.

Sure, there are differences between these situations. Most notably, Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh was then a young up and comer making his first college coaching splash. Arkansas’ sixty-three-year-old John L. Smith has been around the block once or eight times.

But, like anything else in life that must be played out away from the Excel spreadsheets and algorithms which make up our modern life, football’s a fickle thing. Fickle enough that an unranked team can lose its top gun quarterback and still upend the nation’s juggernaut du jour.

Nick Holt has already seen this unfold firsthand.

Could he again?

13 Sep

Exclusive Q&A with Tyler Wilson

 

Last season, Tyler Wilson escaped major injury. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

The following, with small changes, ran in Arkansas Life magazine earlier this month. I thought college football fans would appreciate details about Wilson’s life. It’s a shame he likely won’t suit up against No. 1 Alabama after suffering a head injury last week. Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino told me that over the summer he and Wilson prepared for the Crimson Tide more than any other team. 

Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson has devoted himself to football so long it’s easy to forget he once had to choose the path which has made him the most pivotal player in Arkansas’ typically high-powered spread offense.

Wilson, a native of Greenwood in northwest Arkansas, was introduced to multiple sports through his family. He picked up basketball from his father, Don Wilson, who’d won a national championship in 1981 playing for Westark Junior College in Fort Smith. His mother, Suzy Wilson, and grandmother, Myra Burgess, played tennis with Tyler and his younger sister Allie, who would win three tennis state titles at Greenwood High. Growing up, Wilson often threw the football with an older cousin, Brooks Coatney, who was Greenwood High’s quarterback.

Before committing to football late in high school, though, baseball mattered most. Not least because of “For Love of the Game,” which Wilson first watched around eight years old, his father recalls. The movie, which stars Kevin Costner as a veteran major league pitcher throwing a perfect game while dealing with memories of a girlfriend he doesn’t want to lose, touched the entire family. “We probably know every line to the movie,” Don Wilson says. “We’ve watched it at least 100 times.” Over time, Tyler Wilson has come to see himself in Costner’s character in various ways, he adds.

Still, Wilson doesn’t want to divulge anything about his love life to the public now. No point risking potential distractions when so much is riding on this season: finally beating powerhouse Alabama, securing Arkansas’ first SEC title, becoming Arkansas’ first Heisman Trophy winner.

This is also the fifth-year senior’s last chance to enjoy college before a likely NFL career. Wilson’s responsibilities mean free time is scarce these days, but it’s clear how he usually likes to spend it. Since he was about 12 years old, Wilson has dabbled in playing the guitar and writing lyrics. At home, he’ll jam with an uncle and cousins, but in Fayetteville he likes to play with his best friend and roommate, Don Wilson says. His wide-ranging tastes include Jack Johnson, the Eagles and country music.

Wilson also loves to golf. He’s spent plenty hours on courses including Stonebridge Meadows, the Links at Fayetteville and Alma’s Eagle Crest, where he often tries to beat his cousin Brooks Coatney, the head football coach at Van Buren High School. “If wasn’t trying to play football, he’d be trying to get his card to play on tour,” Don Wilson says with a laugh.
Tyler Wilson discussed more about his infatuation for the fairways, and other topics, through e-mail:
05 Sep

Tyler Wilson: Projecting Senior Year Stats Vs. Other Elite SEC QBs

Courtesy Arkansas Democrat-Gazette 

Among the best quarterbacks in SEC history, Tyler Wilson’s trajectory to success may be unmatched.

Typically, guys good enough to twice earn first-team All-SEC honors and project as a high first-round draft pick are also good enough to play heavy minutes before their fourth season. Not so with Arkansas’ Wilson, who marinated large portions of three seasons, playing a total 13 games. Backing up Ryan Mallett, he learned former coach Bobby Petrino’s intricate offense inside and out.

With former starter Ryan Mallett’s departure, Wilson produced the best junior season in Arkansas history in 2011. Now, by building on last season, the 6-3, 220-pound senior has a serious shot at the strongest career finish among pure passers in SEC history [click on image below to magnify]:

 *No dual-threat Tim Tebows or Cam Newtons in the graph above. Also, with the exception of Ryan Mallett, I only included NFL Draft first-rounders. So no Danny Wuerffel, David Greene or Andre Woodson. Players from new SEC members Mizzou and Texas A&M were treated as unwanted stepchildren to be left on the front porch.

The schedule, featuring home games against bruisers LSU and Alabama, sets up nicely.  Wilson has looked sharper than ever in the off-season and in a season opening win in which he tallied the best QB rating among major conference players. The return of star running back Knile Davis has freed up the passing game even more.

There are, of course, concerns. On offense, the biggest questions center on the extent to which last year’s star receivers and head coach are replaceable. Can guys like Javontee Herndon, Julian Horton and Mekale McKay pick up some of the slack left by the departures of receivers Greg Childs, Joe Adams and Jarius Wright? Can offensive coordinator Paul Petrino develop schemes to get them open with the same consistency as his older brother did?

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24 Aug

Why Cobi Hamilton will surpass Jarius Wright as a wide receiver

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lw4dEWdNSmk&w=560&h=315]

Hamilton has had some of his finest moments against the best defenses. Look for his production – and reputation – to exponentially spike this season.

I had an interesting conundrum while writing a recent AS360 piece on the best Razorbacks of the SEC era (i.e., since 1992).

First off, my editor Chris Bahn and I had to figure out our definition for “best.” Obviously, stats matter. So does the ability to play best in the biggest games. But going beyond that we settled on two defining traits:

a)  Did he play a large role in the program’s rise in national reputation?

b)  In a hypothetical situation, does he give Arkansas the best chance to move the ball?

“It’s late in the fourth quarter and Arkansas is down six points with the ball. All that is between the Razorbacks and the end zone is 30 yards and the best Alabama defense of all time. Of all Arkansas’ SEC players, who do you most trust protecting you? Which running back has the best chance of moving the chains? Who’s going to make the catch, then have the highest chance of breaking free?”

For the most part, I chose players who easily satisfied both these traits. Nobody would argue guys like Darren McFadden, Tyler Wilson or Anthony Lucas fulfill both requirements.

Selecting a receiver to pair with Lucas, though, presents a conundrum.

If you more heavily weigh stats and helping the program rise in national reputation, then Jarius Wright is a logical choice:

He entered as the least-heralded of a trio of receivers who all eventually found their way to the NFL. Wright left Arkansas as the team’s all-time leader in catches (168) and yards (2,934) in  and ranks No. 2 in the record books with 24 touchdowns.

And, indeed, Wright was chosen for the AS360 piece.

But, if you give more weight to the second trait, then you have to take into account the physical advantages some of the all-time Arkansas receivers have over the 5-10 Wright. The 6-6 Marcus Monk, in his heyday, presented just about as tough a cover as Arkansas has ever had. But, when taking into account speed, skill set, height and sheer talent, I honestly believe the 6-3 Cobi Hamilton will surpass Wright as a receiver.

He’s been waiting in the wings for three seasons behind Wright, Greg Childs and Joe Adams, content to show only flickers of a fire which will soon engulf the entire SEC. He’s watched his quarterback Tyler Wilson also wait three years before emerging as the best Hog QB of the SEC era. I expect a similar jump in production from Hamilton this season. Once Hamilton has an All-American caliber season under his belt, it will be a lot easier for Hog fans to rank him up there with Lucas.

If you’re going all rolly-eye on me right now, don’t just take my word for it. NFL scouts know Hamilton’s potential too. He’s projected to be chosen higher than any other Arkansas receiver to be taken in recent decades.

20 Aug

CBS descends on Fayetteville, Lonoke for two special series

CBS, that grand old lady of a network, sure has taken to Arkansas subjects lately.

For starters, there’s a new feature focused on the Razorbacks’ Heisman Trophy candidates and Paul Petrino’s salty, salty mouth which will debut on Sept. 19.

Receiving less publicity, but of far more significance to the state as a whole, CBS Evening News will feature Lonoke County and surrounding areas in a four-part series on the effects of this summer’s drought on the Arkansas River and the states through which it runs. Gene Sullivan, who helps run the Bayou Meto Water Management Project, told me he spoke at length with a  CBS producer and reporter last week about the area’s special challenges, and their effects on local rice and soybean farmers. This segment will come out likely in mid or late September and will be part of a four-part series. Other parts will focus on the Arkansas River in Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado.

OK, enough of the non-sports talk. Topically, I may be flowing a bit outside my banks here.

Below is more on the upcoming Hogs series:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V61X9d-Zb-s&w=560&h=315]

CBS Sports Network and CBSSports.com present COLLEGE FOOTBALL CONFIDENTIAL: ARKANSAS, an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at one of the most intriguing teams of the 2012 season, the Arkansas Razorbacks. The series of seven shows debuts on CBS Sports Network on Wednesday, Aug. 29 (7:00 PM, ET).  CBSSports.com complements the television series with exclusive all-access online content beginning Monday, Aug. 20, available at CBSSports.com/collegefootballconfidential.

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14 Jan

National columnist discusses Tyler Wilson’s chances to win the 2012 Heisman Trophy

Now that he's sticking around, how high will Tyler Wilson rise as a Heisman contender?

College football columnist Bruce Feldman’s no stranger to rolling the dice. Last summer, the national writer left a 17-year career at ESPN for CBS amid the controversial aftermath of the release of a memoir from former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach.

He relocated to Los Angeles, where he has a close view of the University of Southern California football team and its star quarterback Matt Barkley. On Thursday, Fayettville, Ark.-based radio show host Bo Mattingly asked who he felt were top contenders for next season’s Heisman Trophy. Feldman could have gone out on a limb by not putting Barkley at the top of his preseason favorites.

He didn’t.

Instead, he said Wilson will contend but said Barkley begins the season with a few advantages. “You’re gonna see Barkley come into next season probably as the favorite. He’s a high profile guy and plays for a high-profile [team] … they’ll probably start off preseason #1 or #2. He’s at a school with a history of producing stars and has, as I mentioned before, two fantastic receivers. He’s gonna put up big numbers.”

“In the case of Tyler Wilson, I think he’s up there with [Oklahoma quarterback] Landry Jones. I think you could put [quarterback] Geno Smith, who’s from West Virginia and gonna come back. He had a huge game against Clemson,” Feldman said on Sports Talk With Bo Mattingly. “They scored 70 points in the Orange Bowl. All his best receivers are back; they should be even better on the offensive line … You’re looking at a guy who’s gonna put up ridiculous numbers.”

Among other possible early-season contenders, Feldman mentioned Wisconsin running back Montee Ball and Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray.

Mattingly also asked if Arkansas has a strong chance of toppling LSU and Alabama at home next season: “I think so. I really do think so. Alabama, as terrific as they looked on Monday night,  is only returning four starters on both sides of the ball. A key for them is they do have a nucleus of an outstanding offensive line… you know Nick Saban is gonna have a strong defense.”

In the end, though, Feldman predicted the SEC will not win its seventh consecutive national title.

U.S.C. is his pre-pre-preseason favorite.

 

23 Nov

In latest Game of the Century, Arkansas’ Offense Battles History Alongside LSU’s Defense

Great defenses more often than not take down superb offenses. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino doesn't want to hear it.

It seems every time one of these games comes around, visions of Thanksgiving Day, 1971 are conjured.

In this particular rendition, Oklahoma played the irresistible force, Nebraska the immovable object.

No. 1 Nebraska entered the heavily hyped fray with a defense – filled with with seven first-team All-Big Eight selections and four players who would earn consensus All-America honors – that to this day many still consider the best in college football history.

The No. 2 Sooners countered on their home field with the nation’s most productive offense, a Wishbone attack averaging 45 points and 563 total yards per game (481 on the ground).

When the dust cleared in Norman, Okla., that superlative defense was left standing. Nebraska won 35-31.
Fourteen years later, the programs switched roles entering another late November showdown in Oklahoma.

This time around, No. 2 Nebraska boasted the nation’s highest scoring offense, with a ground attack racking up 395 yards a game. No. 5 Oklahoma countered with a highly potent running game all its own. But the Sooners’ defense, led by nose guard Tony Casillas, linebacker Brian Bosworth and defensive end Kevin Murphy, was even more impressive.

Oklahoma won 27-7 after holding Nebraska to 161 yards.

It is yet to be seen if No. 1 LSU’s defense will enter the pantheon of the game’s great defenses, as Nebraska ’71 and Oklahoma ’85 have. But in leading LSU through an undefeated first 11 games, a gauntlet including Oregon, West Virginia and Alabama, it so far certainly seems likely. As the Tigers look down the scope at their Nov. 25 game with No. 3 Arkansas, a team to which they have lost three of the last four seasons, they take solace in a defense superior to any of its predecessors.

The legacy of Arkansas’ recently vaunted offense, which has routed its last three SEC opponents, is harder to divine. It suffered mid-season hiccups in lackluster wins against Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, on the heels of failing a test against Alabama, the only team with a defense comparable to LSU’s.

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31 Oct

Why Arkansas’ hour-long turn in ESPN’s college QB series could have been so much better

Tyler Wilson - Spring Practice
This is a typical setting for Arkansas’ starting quarterback. In a recent behind-the-scenes show, ESPN fumbled a chance to show more.

The premise of ESPN’s “Depth Chart'” as an hour-long glimpse inside the lives of Arkansas football players struck me as far-fetched from the get-go. When it comes to media availability, Razorback football likely has the tightest restrictions of any program in the state and the walls have only shot up higher this season. Look, for instance, at information flow in the immediate aftermath of Knile Davis’ devastating ankle injury during an August practice. By far the most important news that afternoon was Davis’ injury – which left him screaming and requiring a cart to drive him off the field – yet the UA prohibited teammates from talking about Davis afterward. Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee began post-practice comments by informing media only Arkansas’ head coach could discuss injuries, and Bobby Petrino was not scheduled to speak that day.

I absolutely understand elite college footballl programs’ desire to control the when and how news about them is released. What I was less clear about was how that desire would jive with a team of ESPN cameramen and producers trying to document the on and off-field lives of Arkansas’ quarterbacks in the week leading up to the Auburn game. “This position is so closely scrutinized that we created this series to draw back the curtain and reallly show fans what it takes to play quarterback in one of America’s top college programs,” said Vinnie Malhotra, excutive producer of ESPN Content Development, in a press release before the four-part “Depth Chart” series started airing in early October.

So it was with great interest that I watched Arkansas’ episode, which aired last week. By the time I was through, I felt like I had watched the most beautiful sports infomercial ever.

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