FAYETTEVILLE-- It's happened four times in the Razorbacks' nine games this season.
"It seems like every week it's 10 nothing," Tyler Wilson moaned after Arkansas had scratched out a 19-15 win over a Tulsa team riding a seven game winning streak and spoiling for an upset.
Wilson has a good memory. Against Rutgers, Auburn, Ole Miss and Tulsa the Hogs jumped out to a quick 10-0 start only to bog down offensively. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino was so frustrated by the repeating pattern he was determined to do something different when the Hogs took a 10-0 lead against the Golden Hurricane.
"We threw a flea flicker the first play of the third series just to try to keep it (momentum) going," Petrino recalled. "We dropped it. Then we had a guy open on a third down and we missed him."
Arkansas managed to add just a single field goal going into the third quarter and found itself down 15-13 at the time.
"Anybody that watches our team is like, 'Okay, here we go again. It's 10 nothing,' " Wilson said sarcastically. "We stumble on that third or fourth series. We gotta flip the switch. We gotta get touchdowns there because that puts the game out of reach."
Pass protection appears to be the main culprit. Wilson is targeting senior Cobi Hamilton quickly and often. It's been great for Hamilton's stats. He already holds the school record for receptions in a season (69) and is closing in on former Hog Jarius Wright's single season yardage total. He also set an SEC record with 303 yards in a game against Rutgers. But Wilson acknowledges that immediately seeking out Hamilton has kept him from distributing the ball to other receivers who may be open due to the attention Hamilton is getting from opposing players.
The answer, Wilson said, is to stay steady in the pocket longer in order to properly go through his progressions, something that is easier said than done with the kind of blitz pressures he's been getting this season.
"The guys that are able to stand in there and the guys that are gun shy," that's the difference (in spotting open receivers.)," Wilson admitted. "I did take a couple of big ones (hits). There was a time in the middle of the game when I needed to stand my ground. There were a couple of times later when I stood in there."
Indeed it was early in the 4th quarter when Wilson stood his ground for perhaps the biggest play of the game. With Arkansas still trailing 15-13, Wilson connected with Hamilton on a 41 yard pass to the Tulsa 15. He followed that with another 14 yarder to the visitors one yard line. Dennis Johnson then scored what proved to be the game winning touchdown on a one-yard run.
"We talked about all week that teams had exposed them (Tulsa) throwing the ball downfield," Wilson said of the decision to target Hamilton on a deep route. "We had not done that all game. Threaten 'em deep and then get them on their heels."
"After Cobi made that catch we hit 'em with a little spark screen out of an empty backfield and Cobi took it down to the one," Wilson added.
Head coach John L. Smith admitted that giving Wilson more time to throw is a work in progress.
"We do a ton of pass blocking (in practice) one-on-one," Smith pointed out. "I do think they're (the O-line) getting better but sometimes we're missing some things and not getting it picked up and sometimes it's Tyler's fault for not getting it checked exactly right or not getting out of a play or two."
The need for Wilson to check down more to running back Dennis Johnson was a stated goal this past week by Petrino following the 161 yards rushing Johnson piled up against Ole Miss. However the Hogs running game struggles returned at times against Tulsa, like on a fourth and one from the T.U. 16 yard line. Johnson was stuffed for a two-yard loss leaving the Golden Hurricane with a little over a minute on the clock to try to tie the game and send it into overtime or win it with a two point conversion.
Thankfully it never came to that. Two plays later defensive end Chris Smith sacked Tulsa quarterback Cody Green for an eight yard loss and a fumble which was recovered by Byran Jones allowing Arkansas to run out the clock.
"We found a way to win the game late in the game and you gotta do that," Wilson observed. "Good teams do that. We didn't last week. We did this week."