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Unfair for Wilson 

Friends and colleagues of mine continually assume that this post-apocalyptic string of Pearls is an escalating challenge from week to week. "Man, how are you going to write about THAT?!" is the general inquiry after another chapter of Razorback futility in 2012 is written. It will occasionally be delivered with any number of colorful modifiers.

Believe this: It's actually substantially easier to scrawl a "fan's perspective" style of column when the faction you represent is unspeakably pissed off. Arkansas fans reach a particularly rarefied level of lunacy when things are rotten. The past four weeks have engendered a rather awkward sense of unity. The fan base isn't fractured like it was at various data points on the Hog timeline of the past quarter-century. Instead, everyone generally agrees on the fundamentals: the coaching staff is historically and tragicomically inept, the roster is depleted in all the worst possible ways and any prospective fix is daunting.

Where the rumblings might turn aggressive is in the immediate aftermath of, say, a 48-point drubbing by an unranked Texas A&M team that's supposedly cutting its teeth on purported "big boy" football. Where things go sour is when passionate people start to wonder when it's the right time to put John L. Smith & Co. into exile mode. You'll doubtless find a measure of division on that question, because nobody can honestly point to an example — good or bad — of an interim coach being replaced with another interim coach in the midst of an already lost season.

Optimism has petered completely out for 2012, which I suppose is akin to saying that Keith Richards has done some drugs. When the schedule liberated the Hogs from their fishtank, they somehow looked more disjointed being the away team than they did in the span of four games in Arkansas. New Aggie coach Kevin Sumlin, a firebrand who inherited a fair nucleus from the deposed Mike Sherman, saw a lot of tape that made him salivate so he turned a redshirt freshman named Johnny Manziel completely loose, and it paid off in spades. Manziel became the latest quarterback to turn the Arkansas game into a Davey O'Brien Award mixtape. Three of the last four QBs who have faced the Hogs have ended up winning their conference's Offensive Player of the Week honors, and the only one who didn't just happens to be the helmsman for the consensus top-flight program in the country.

As Manziel dissected the helpless Razorback defense to the tune of 51 unanswered points, his counterpart began to show tangible emblems of his own regression. Tyler Wilson has been championed for months for his poise, as NFL-ready as any quarterback in the country. Rain and utter desperation certainly betrayed him at Kyle Field, but for the first time since he became a starter, Wilson was completely out of sync despite receiving plausible pass protection for a change (zero sacks) and knowing that A&M's secondary was inexperienced and employing rather soft man coverage. There were a couple of terrible reads early in the game that squashed whatever hopes Arkansas had of staying in the game.

Wilson losing composure and zeal is something that seemed unfathomable a month ago, even if you felt like this team was massively oversold as a chic title contender and was really just an average SEC also-ran. The stark, sad fact is that all of the plaudits bestowed on Wilson were unfair, and he now bears the weight of all that praise and his NFL draft status is destined to suffer accordingly. Meanwhile, the coaches collect their paychecks and tick off each game on the schedule, readily embracing this newfound lame-duck status. I'm not saying that the losing doesn't cause them misery, or that it doesn't affect their long-term viability for future employment, but their collective margin for error was much greater. At least Knile Davis has the chance, if not the desire, to return to the team next fall to prove all of his fumbling and lost yardage was an anomaly.

The A&M game occurred on the heels of a titillating piece by Eric Crawford wherein the former Louisville Courier-Journal writer distilled the "Bobby Petrino effect." In summary, Louisville tanked when Petrino fled for the NFL and the consensus among former players was that once the atmosphere of intimidation and the obsession with minutia had vacated, the air went out of the balloon and the Cardinals couldn't gain footing again under the ill-fated successor, Steve Kragthorpe. It was germane to current events in Arkansas, what with the Hog locker room transitioning from a presumed Gestapo to something like Romper Room in a matter of weeks. Smith's demeanor on the sidelines couldn't be more antithetical to the pursed lips and piercing glares of Petrino, and the Razorbacks' performance reflects it.

That's not to be viewed as an endorsement of rehiring Petrino, regardless of how you may read it. The Hogs need that degree of player discipline again, but can ill afford the lack thereof from the headmaster himself. And you simply won't find that combination wandering the streets in October, so Smith & Co. have carte blanche to take this rickety old time machine right back to 1990 unfettered, much to our great dismay.

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Speaking of Tyler Wilson, John L. Smith

  • Former Hog coach John Smith under scrutiny for contract in bankruptcy court

    February 13, 2013
    USA Today reports: Former Arkansas football coach John L. Smith has been accused of using his employment contracts with the Razorbacks to defraud several of his creditors, according to two complaints filed this week in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. /more/
  • A new era for Razorbacks

    February 6, 2013
    You do not have to be steeped in wizardry or any kind of advanced science to understand that Arkansas football is being purified from the roots up. /more/
  • Jeff Long: 2012 Arkansan of the year

    January 16, 2013
    It's difficult to fathom an occasion where any other agent of Razorback culture was so frequently cussed or discussed. /more/
  • Other Arkies of the Year

    January 16, 2013
    They also stood out. /more/
  • The craziest year in Razorback history

    December 26, 2012
    In prior editions of Pearls, I have freely disclosed being a bit of a "newbie", a child of the 1980s who nonetheless has devoted generous portions of his life to studying the overall history of Arkansas Razorback athletics. Therefore, at the risk of offending those whose memories may be longer than my own, I still think I'm qualified to say that 2012 was the most oddball, bass-ackwards mess of a year for that institution since the leather helmet/peach basket era. /more/
  • The midday round-up

    December 3, 2012
    Tyler Wilson signs with a high-powered agent. The Ark. Legislative Black Caucus names a leader. State Repubs. name their leaders. And a former Hendrix student continues to get pub for encouraging young people to NOT go to college. /more/
  • Play Brandon Allen

    November 14, 2012
    The distinction between these Razorback footballers and those from a season ago isn't as disparate as the records (9-1 through 10 games last year, 4-6 this time) might indicate. /more/
  • Razorbacks Midseason review

    October 24, 2012
    We've nudged a bit past the true midpoint of 2012, but on the heels of an idle weekend and with a slate of still-meaningful games ahead, Pearls looks back, then looks forward in its quasi-traditional and moderately derisive midseason review. /more/
  • Bad time for a bye week for Hogs

    October 17, 2012
    Leave it to the talented, tormented Razorbacks of 2012 to play their most complete game of the entire season to date in a game that was incomplete. /more/
  • A glimmer of hope for Hogs

    October 10, 2012
    A few happy hours on the ol' Plains at Jordan-Hare Stadium doesn't really constitute a fix, but as Pearls dabbles in crude psychobabble, let's not discount what a 17-point road win in the SEC can mean. /more/
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