It didn't take an orthopedist to see this coming after some of the ominous descriptions of the scene when All-SEC tailback Knile Davis went down during Thursday's practice, but if there was any doubt about his fate last night, there is none this morning: Davis will miss the entire 2011 season with an injury to his left ankle, per an official release from Arkansas. If all goes according to plan, he'll return in 2012 with two years of eligibility remaining.
When he does return, it will be on two reconstructed ankles: Previously, Davis broke his right ankle as a high school senior, then re-broke the same one as a true freshman in 2009. But his long-term prognosis isn't the only thing at stake: As a sophomore, Davis turned a crowded backfield rotation into a one-man show by midseason, complementing quarterback Ryan Mallet's prolific arm with seven straight games over 100 yards from scrimmage, all but two — a shootout loss to eventual BCS champion Auburn in October and a Sugar Bowl loss to 12-1 Ohio State — Razorback wins.
For the year, Davis generated 1,458 total yards and was the only SEC running back to average 100 yards per game on the ground despite a) Playing in the league's most pass-happy offense and b) Spending the first month of the season splitting time with three other backs. Any and all projections of Arkansas as a potential dark horse in the SEC race began with Davis taking over for Mallett as the engine of the offense.
Not that the Hogs are suddenly bereft of options: With receiver Greg Childs returning from a knee injury, there are four veteran targets on hand (Childs, Joe Adams, CJairus Wright and Cobi Hamilton) who combined for 2,890 yards and 23 touchdowns on 170 catches last year, and two running backs (Ronnie Wingo and Dennis Johnson) who have flashed versatility as runners and receivers. Coach Bobby Petrino is also no stranger to regrouping from the loss of a star running back, leading Louisville within a last-second field goal of a perfect season in 2006 after watching top rusher Michael Bush go down in the season opener.
On the heels of Broderick Green's season-ending ACL injury in the spring, though, there is no proven back to take the spotlight off of new quarterback Tyler Wilson. If the Razorbacks are still seeing a BCS bowl in their dreams, from here on they'll be riding in on the unproven strength of Wilson's right arm.