FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – With a minute to go in a humiliating 52-0 rout, injured Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson turned to sports information director Zack Higbee on the sideline and said, "There are some things I need to say."
Did he ever.
Only seconds after head coach John L. Smith told the assembled media "it's easy to point fingers at someone else; that's the coward's way out," Wilson stormed into the press room, sat down behind a microphone and put his teammates on blast.
"Obviously that wasn't pretty to watch," said Wilson, his face red and his voice raised. "Sucks I couldn't be out there to do something about it. Do I feel that we, at times, gave up out there? Yeah, absolutely."
Wilson, who didn't play because of concussion symptoms, went on: "As a leader, it sucks to see people not do their jobs and to see things go wrong. There has been a lot of things go that way." Wilson continued for a moment or two and then dropped his hands on the table, palms down, and said, "That's all I got."
Then he walked out.
Wilson wasn't the only one who felt the Razorbacks quit. "Toward the end, yeah," said senior defensive tackle Alfred Davis, moments after Wilson left the room. "To be honest."
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Asked whether he was upset that Wilson called out the team, Davis raised his voice, too. "If they quit, they quit," he said. "We have to get to a place where we're not quitting in football games – win, lose or draw."
Give credit to Wilson for showing some fight. It's about time somebody did. To say Smith has failed as a leader is about as obvious at this point as saying Alabama is good at football. At halftime, with his team down 24-0, he told CBS' Tracy Wolfson the Razorbacks need to "Keep doing what we're doing." And after the game, he slouched into the press room, leaned over the microphone and announced, "I don't know what to say."
As if that wasn't bad enough, he then admitted he didn't know what to say to the players, either.
Clearly Wilson knew what to say.
Now, ripping your teammates in front of the media is usually frowned upon – Higbee said even allowing a player who didn't enter the game to speak to the media is not normally done – but this team and this entire region needs to hear it. Because the players who quit weren't the only ones who gave up.
Fans quit too on this rainy Saturday. They flooded out the exits even before halftime. And those were some of the loyal ones. Traffic to the game was relatively light and the parking lots reserved for tailgating were strikingly empty for a huge SEC game. An untold amount of fans quit days ago.
How bad has it gotten here in Arkansas? There was a near-fight on a plane ride into the state from Dallas Friday night. Two fans started yelling at each other about fired coach Bobby Petrino, with one calling the other "an idiot redneck."
"We had a national championship contending team," said Shane Mayo, 30, who was defending the disgraced coach from seat 5A. "Bobby Petrino is the steward, the captain of the ship."
Last week's brutal home loss to unheralded Louisiana-Monroe split open a brewing chasm in this area about whether Petrino should have been fired and whether athletic director Jeff Long destroyed a once-promising season by hiring Smith. A lot of fans became more intent on stating their side of the debate than cheering on the team. That has turned fans against fans and a proud community into a pool of misery.
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"A lot of people wouldn't care if [Petrino] murdered somebody as long as we win," said Arkansas grad Steve Dubois before Saturday's game. "Idiots."
Petrino may have wrecked his career and his team's season by lying to his boss about a motorcycle accident involving a young woman in the athletic department, but the fired coach is now more popular here than either the A.D. or the current coach. So popular, in fact, that a 22-year-old fan named Michael Remescheid said he'd rather have Petrino back in charge than have a law passed allowing nearby Benton County to start serving alcohol.
"I'd rather have Petrino," he said Friday. "I can make my own beer."
The best thing that can happen to the community of Arkansas football supporters is if Wilson's cover tribute to Tim Tebow's famous "Promise" speech starts giving them something to talk about beside how terrible Petrino/Long/Smith is. The vibe here is shockingly negative, and the anger Wilson showed needs to be channeled into something productive for the remainder of what is likely a lost season.
There is still a shred of promise. Alabama is a powerhouse, perhaps a team of the decade in the making, but Arkansas could have contended in this game if Wilson had been healthy. The Razorbacks' defense was strong and inspired in the first half, but silly mistakes rendered this game unsightly. The worst of those mistakes was Smith starting an inexperienced center, who promptly fired a snap over the head of punter Dylan Breeding for a 31-yard loss on fourth down in the first quarter. That set up the only touchdown the Tide would need.
"Blame was here," Smith said of his decision after the game. "That's where the blame should come."
No need to worry about that. The bellowing for Louisville coach and Arkansas native Charlie Strong is probably going on all over the state right now.
It's a shame that Wilson, clearly the heart of this team, has to watch his senior season turn into this nightmare. Whether he plays next week against Rutgers or not – and Smith said he might – the team should play for him and fans should show up for him. He's owed that much, at least.
Wilson should have saved his tirade for the locker room, but he deserves a lot better than this. Arkansas is a state known for producing a president from a place called Hope, but it doesn't have to be known for a football program from a place of despair.
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