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Down Early, Both Arkansas And Ole Miss Rally For Double-Digit Victories

Arkansas 49 – Jacksonville State 24

1. Quarterback Tyler Wilson sets the school record for passing yards in a season opener.

2. A healthy Knile Davis returns to action – 18 carries for 70 yards.

3. Areas to address – “careless ball handling, missed tackles, shoddy pass defense, inconsistent offensive line play…”

4. John L. Smith: “Our expectations are to do better than we did.”

Ole Miss 49 – Central Arkansas 27

5. Rebels have to rally – down 20-14 at half.

6. Offensive coordinator Dan Werner: “I thought we played really well in the second half.”

7. 35-7 second half binge.  Hugh Freeze at halftime: “I want our offense to score 35 points in the second half and I want our defense to shut them out.”

8. An emotional day for the new head coach: “I was a bit overwhelmed by the Walk of Champions.”

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Hogs’ Davis Still Off Limits When It Comes To Tackling Drills

It’s was about this time last year when dynamic Arkansas running back Knile Davis suffered a serious ankle injury in practice that cost him the 2011 season.  Rather than turn pro, Davis chose to return to Fayetteville and he’s back on the practice field.

But Razorback coaches are still keeping him away from heavy contact.  Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino told The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “As of right now, he’s not going to get hit yet.”

So when will UA’s coaches feel comfortable enough to let their expected starter get some contact?  That’s an “ongoing conversation” according to Petrino.

In 2010, Davis rushed for 1,322 yards, 13 touchdowns and led the SEC with a 6.5 yard-per-carry average.

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Hogs’ RB Davis Is Ready For The Fall

Arkansas running back and Heisman Trophy candidate Knile Davis is the exception to the rule.  He’s the college student who’s not looking forward to summer.  That’s because Davis — who missed the 2011 season with a serious ankle injury – is ready to play football again.  Now.

 

“I’m not an offseason person.  I’m ready for the season to come on.  Last time I played was Ohio State (in the January 2011 Sugar Bowl).  It’s been awhile – as you all know.  I’m just ready man.  I’m excited.  I’m excited with the guys I’m playing with.  The team I’m playing with…

Once you’ve reached a certain level and you get chopped off by injuries or something, you just miss being able to cut and miss being able to run.  So every day that you can’t do it makes you work harder and try to get back to it.  So every day I came in I was just trying to get my speed back and my cuts back as much as I could and it came.”

 

In the 2010 season, Davis rushed for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns on 204 carries.  His 6.5 yards-per-carry average was tops in the SEC.

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Smith Says All The Right Things At Arkansas (Just As He Did At Weber State)

John L. Smith knows exactly what to say at an introductory press conference.  Having been through two of those things in the past five months it’s no surprise that he has the whole thing down to an art.

Meeting the press on his return to Arkansas yesterday — after a blink-and-you-missed-it stint at his alma mater, Weber State — Smith told Razorback fans just what they wanted to hear.  Mainly that championships are still on the table and are still the goal for this year’s bunch of Bobby Petrino-less Hogs:

 

“Our expectations are the same.  Nothing’s going to slow down.  In fact, we’re going to speed up.  Our expectations are that we’re going to go ahead and we’re going to battle and fight for a national title.  It was that way when I walked in the door three years ago and it’s going to continue to be that way…

Everything’s in place here.  You’ve got a good football team.  We’ve got the best fans in the world.  We’ve got great coaches.  Let’s make it a special year.”

 

Somebody give the Governor a harrumph!

In addition to motivating the Razorback fanbase, Smith touched on a few other topics…

 

* He spoke of his love of adventure and new challenges:  “If there is a door open, walk through it.  If there’s a window open, jump out of it. I guess I’ve always been a little that way.”  (Folks in Ogden can now attest to that.  Sounds like Jeff Long’s found the perfect stable, dependable replacement for a guy like Petrino.)

* He seemed eager to share some of the blame for his quick Weber State exit with his wife:  “I said, ‘This decision’s yours.  She said, ‘Here’s the deal.  You’re going back to people that love you.  You’re going back to a team that is a good football team and you have a chance to fight for a national championship.’  She said, ‘This might be the only chance you have left.’  So she said, ‘You’re going back’ and here I am.”  (Smith did not say that his wife at any point said to him, “Tough noogies to the nimrods who put their faith in you at Weber State,” but that sure seems to have been her sentiment.)

* After admitting that he’s looking for redemption — after being fired by Michigan State in 2006 — he made it clear that he feels there’s a chance he could land the Razorback job long-term:  ”We’ll have to wait and see.  Only the season is going to dictate that.”

 

Smith said all this while wearing a slick set of cowboy boots.  At one point he called a television personality “fat and sloppy.”  And he also intentionally mispronounced the name of Arkansas tailback Knile Davis.

It was either an oddball ending to an oddball month for Razorback football or the oddball beginning to what could be a helluva football season.  Hog fans will obviously hope for the latter.  And from purely a football sense, Long seems to have tabbed the one man for the interim gig who could calm fans, unite the players, and keep the existing assistants on his side.

Win, win and win.

Still, I want to toss a little credit in the direction of the Razorback fanbase today.  While they’ll be cheering wildly for Smith to capture a conference and/or national crown this fall — as they should, he’s the coach of their football program after all — most seem to realize that he pulled a pretty cruel stunt on the administration, assistants and players at Weber State.  The defense of Smith’s actions has been muted at best.  And that is probably for the best.  Defending the way in which he nuked his alma mater would have just given Hog fans a reputation for being blind to all but their own their own school’s issues.

As it stands, it appears that most Hog backers are for Smith to succeed… even though they know he didn’t bathe himself in glory by departing Ogden, Utah as he did.

Kudos to them.  Best of luck to him.

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SEC Headlines – 4/13/12 Part One

1.  Nick Saban is excited about this year’s A-Day game.

2.  The defense team for ex-Auburn player Antonio Goodwin did not call Gene Chizik or Trooper Taylor to the stand.

3.  The Tigers’ A-Day game will feature a host of young D-linemen.

4.  Question: Will Auburn athletics be as strong without uber-booster Bobby Lowder on the school’s board of trustees?

5.  This writer says Arkansas needs a new coach right now, not an interim.  (Yep, short-term, panicked reactions often turn out better than long-term, planned actions.)

6.  AD Jeff Long tweeted last night that he’s made no decision on whether to go the interim route or not.

7.  He has met with star running back Knile Davis who — like quarterback Tyler Wilson — has no plans to enter the NFL’s supplemental draft.

8.  Meanwhile, Bobby Petrino’s phone records show that he exchanged more than 200 texts and photos with a 26-year-old female employee of the state’s Republican Party who also happens to do some nude modeling, apparently.  (Next stop: Tiger Woodsville.)

9.  Whoever lands the LSU basketball job will be short on players and pressed for time on the recruiting front.

10.  Senior corner Corey Broomfield is a leader for Mississippi State.

11.  MSU will hold their second scrimmage of the spring tonight.

12.  Ole Miss coaches believe defensive end CJ Johnson is “special” and is “going to be an NFL guy.”

13.  Hugh Freeze moved Randall Mackey from quarterback to receiver in the hopes of giving his offense some spark.

14.  Texas A&M was “always an SEC school,” they “just didn’t know it.”  (We’ve been writing that very thing since way back in 2009.)

15.  Aggie running back Christine Michael is looking strong this spring (despite being named “Christine”).

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Who Is The Best Running Back In The SEC?

How Do Knile Davis And Marcus Lattimore Compare Head To Head?

TJ Carpenter

Being considered the best running back in the SEC comes with national notoriety, Heisman hype and aspirations of playing the NFL. In many years the conversation and debate is heated; many times it is difficult to distinguish between one elite running back and another because all in the conversation dominate the country’s toughest conference known for its smothering defense.

This year the debate is not nearly as close as many would have you believe. It is fairly lopsided in fact, but not in the direction many would contend. This year, the debate is between Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina and Arkansas’ Knile Davis.

I’m having Deja Vu back to the preseason leading up to the 2006 season. Most believed the best running back conversation would be between Ken Darby of Alabama and Kenny Irons of Auburn. Darren McFadden, an eventual two-time Doak Walker Award winner and two-time Heisman trophy runner-up was considered a distant third in that conversation. What was it about McFadden that most people could conceivably have missed?

There were some, including our very own Russ Mitchell and yours truly who trumpeted the clear-cut best running back in the country McFadden and his once-in-a-generation abilities. Others chose to look at the surface and not delve deeper.

This season, we are seeing much of the same in college football. Marcus Lattimore is almost universally considered to be the nations top running back next season. However, few people stop to ask themselves why and simply recite the same things everyone else does. “He’s the workhorse of that offense, he was unstoppable against Alabama in 2010, he was instrumental in South Carolina’s comeback win over Navy.” (Really Navy? You’re going to cite Navy? But that is neither here nor there.)

Do the numbers, physical ability, and big game performances actually prove Lattimore should be considered the best running back in the SEC? Do they even prove there is a contest between Lattimore and Davis. Those who even mention Davis in the conversation often make it sound as though there are too many question marks and downsides in one place or another to give him an edge.

Let’s take a look at facts and then address the questions.

Marcus Lattimore won SEC Freshman of the year in 2010 after rushing for an impressive 1197 yards on 249 carries accumulating 17 TDs that season, starting in 11 games that season not including the bowl game against Florida State in which he only carried the football once. Impressive no doubt.

Knile Davis? Davis, led all SEC running backs with 1322 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2010. Yet the feat was hardly noticed, and did little to push his name further into the conversation of the conference’s best running back heading in to 2011. When you compare games started and not games played, at 133.44 Davis averaged nearly 41 yards-per-game more than Lattimore. In nine games as a starter in 2010, Davis accumulated 1,201 yards.

Lattimore was and looks to be the focal point of the Gamecock offense. As most will point out, Lattimore is the “workhorse” of that offense, and as such will get the majority of the attention. Conversely, Davis is seen as a product of Bobby Petrino’s system and being surrounded with superior talent. Once again, how factual is this as a general statement? In his career, Lattimore has 30 or more carries in a game three times. Davis? Twice. The system being a factor? If it is, it shouldn’t be. Either Petrino is so much better at designing an offense and developing quarterbacks and wide receivers than Spurrier, that he can turn an inferior running back into a potential Heisman trophy candidate, or Spurrier has just gotten lazy in his old age. Either, Petrino really is that much better of a coach than Spurrier or there is less weight to the “system” argument than initially believed. Even if Petrino’s system were a significant factor, why should have be a detrimental point in saying Davis isn’t as good if not better than Lattimore.

Is Lattimore just a better athlete? Is he a faster, stronger back? More equipped at dealing with SEC defensive size and speed?

Lattimore runs a 4.5 in the 40 and bench presses just north of 300 pounds and he squats 482 pounds. Good numbers. Davis’s are better. He runs a 4.33 40, benches 415, and squats 570. Is Lattimore just a better athlete? The numbers would suggest no.

For those keeping score at home; statistical production: Davis; Speed: Davis; Strength: Davis; System: moot.

Davis is as strong as a linemen and is the fastest player on the SEC’s arguably fastest team. To quote Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, “He’s the fastest, strongest guy on the team, so I’d say he’s doing pretty good.”

Pound for pound, yard for yard, carry for carry, Knile Davis is the best back in the nation.

In big games, Lattimore has been exceptional. I don’t want to take that away from him. Against Alabama he was huge, against Georgia, huge. He has been instrumental in the resurgence of the South Carolina football program and the Gamecocks will look to him to lead them to another double-digit win season in 2012. Davis has been exceptional in big games as well, including a game in which the Razorbacks pummeled the LSU Tigers to end the 2010 regular season and used Davis as their battering ram.

The questions? How durable and/or injury prone are both running backs? Neither can take advantage of their considerable talents and skills if they aren’t on the field. Davis has had three ankle surgeries in his career. That is a legitimate concern. If there is one issue Davis has, it’s staying healthy. His health has never been an in-season issue, but missing all of 2011, came because of yet another recurring ankle injury. Missing half of the 2011 season because of an ACL tear, perhaps a more serious injury, is Lattimore’s biggest concern. Knees are finicky. No one including Lattimore knows how he will react to such an injury.

No one wants to see either running back’s career come down to an injury, but needless to say, it is a concern both fan bases and coaching staffs should keep a close eye on and hope for the best.

Lattimore is a good running back, no one, including myself, believes otherwise. But when taking a serious look at a side-by-side objective comparison, it is clear, the hype, and the debate belong to Knile Davis.

There’s still a long way to go before the season begins. I’m sure I’ll be getting plenty of hate mail and complaints about this column. To those who want to debate this point, remember, you aren’t just arguing with me, you’re arguing with facts. The facts are clear, Knile Davis is the best running back in the SEC.

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TJ Carpenter is host of The TJ Carpenter Show on The Hog Sports Radio Network from 6-9am (listen live at www.hogsportsradio.com) TJ Carpenter contributes to www.mrsec.com www.arkansassports360.com and www.collegefootballnews.com.


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SEC Headlines – 3/13/12 Part One

1.  Alabama first-round NCAA foe Creighton is up-tempo, offense-first while the Tide is just the opposite.

2.  Whichever team can impose its will – meaning: style of play — on the other will likely advance to face North Carolina.

3.  Knile Davis is ready for spring ball, but will Arkansas allow him to have contact?

4.  Two-sporter Brandon Mitchell is ready to rejoin the UA football program as the squad’s backup quarterback.

5.  It’s back to work for LSU in the NIT tonight at Oregon.

6.  It sounds like Mississippi’s Terrance Henry is ready to keep playing.

7.  Mississippi State’s opponent — UMass — is excited to play in Starkville tonight, but will the Bulldogs be equally motivated?

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QB Wilson To Return At Arkansas

No shock here, but Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson announced today via press release that he will return to the Hogs for his senior season in Fall 2012:


“I have decided to stay at Arkansas for the 2012 season because I am extremely excited for what this team has the opportunity to accomplish and to finish earning my degree.  After the feedback I received (from the NFL), the decision was difficult to make.  Ultimately, the chance to complete my academics and play one more season as a Razorback were compelling reasons for me to remain in Fayetteville.”


The Hogs should be a consensus preseason Top 10 team with Wilson and tailback Knile Davis both returning next season.

Wilson led the SEC in passing attempts, completions, yards, and passer rating.  He ranked 13th nationally in passing yards.

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SEC Headlines – 1/11/12 Part One

A few quickie headlines for you…


1.  Nick Saban says he might’ve enjoyed this title more than his last.

2.  Let the dynasty talk begin in Tuscaloosa.

3.  Alabama will face LSU again tonight… in basketball.

4.  Crushed by Vandy and facing Kentucky tonight, Auburn’s Tony Barbee is staying positive.

5.  Tiger running back Onterio McCalebb will indeed return next season.

6.  New defensive coordinator — and home run hire — Brian VanGorder will be introduced today.

7.  Knile Davis makes his return to Arkansas official. 

8.  Les Miles says he didn’t see the loss to Alabama coming.

9.  LSU’s ground game got ground up by the Tide defense.

10.  Ole Miss needs to turn things around at home against Arkansas tonight.

11.  Looking ahead, there are reasons for optimism and concern with the Mississippi State football program.

12.  MSU AD Scott Stricklin talks success, Dan Mullen’s outside opportunities and the Bulldogs’ chances of winning a football title.

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Hogs Chasing RBs For 2012

Arkansas has inked just one tailback in its last two signing classes.  That shouldn’t matter this fall when Knile Davis — the SEC’s leading returning rusher — is toting the ball for Bobby Petrino.  But moving forward, the Razorbacks need to ink some ballcarriers.

According to Otis Kirk of HawgSports.com that’s just what Petrino is trying to do.  The Razorbacks are “known to be in the mix for many of the nation’s best” running backs, including:

Jovon Robinson
Brian Kimbrow
Sheldon Dawson
Barry Sanders Jr.
Nick Thompkins
Jonathan Williams

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