Wilson Went Down Fighting

Tyler Wilson

Quarterback Tyler Wilson has been fighting a hip injury for the last month, but that wasn't going to keep him from one last try.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Tyler Wilson was barely moving in midweek. Teammates saw him limp off the field at practice Wednesday night and was still in bad shape when he came to the team meal. But there were never any whispers about him playing against No. 8 LSU in the season finale Friday.

"Naw, Tyler?" said Cobi Hamilton, the record-setting senior wideout. "Him not play? That wasn't going to happen. I never even thought it and no one else did."

Wilson and Hamilton were both clawing until the end, a last-play throw by Wilson for freshman MeKale McKay that was just a bit high in the corner of the end to let the Tigers off the hook in a 20-13 loss at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in front of a senior day crowd of 71,117.

Head coach John L. Smith said Wilson had to have his hip drained of blood after losing his mobility in the middle of the week. But it didn't surprise him that Wilson ran it nine times for 38 yards, both team highs against one of the fastest defenses in the nation.

"Really, Tyler has been banged up all year," Smith said. "But he's as tough as they come. As tough as they come. I knew that before this week. I didn't question that he'd be out there or how he'd play."

Wilson laughed it off as just part of two tough years that were full of bruises, pain and battle marks.

"I guess it was about a quarter of blood on Thursday," he said. "No big deal, just something that's been bothering me for a while, just part of it. There are other guys that had stuff all year, too. I'm no different.

"I saw Cobi go down in the second half, but he wasn't going to let that keep him from finishing his last game. Was he going to let that hit finish him. No. And I knew it wasn't."

Hamilton said it was just a twisted ankle. It hurt, but the pain subsided after he got to the sideline.

"I just wanted to get back out there with my guys and do what I could," he said. "And I thought maybe I'd pull some coverage. When I was out there, they had a corner in front of me and then a safety directly over him. I could run a go and pull (defensive) guys to get someone else open. So I knew I could at least do that."

The emotions were raw in the locker room and in the postseason. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino was waiting for his chance in the interview room when Smith jumped him for one last game-day hug.

"I didn't get a chance for it in the locker room, so I had to do it now," said Petrino, apologizing for his tears. "I just got to thank him one more time for everything."

Smith, who also hugged reporters, chastised Petrino for his tears.

"No crying in football, none," he said. "Don't do that."

But he was close to tears, too, as he held Petrino tight.

Petrino teared up as he talked about Wilson.

"You know, what Tyler had to deal with was a little more than what you normally play with," Petrino said. "He just kept fighting through stuff. What he did really was pretty incredible all year.

"Cobi Hamilton is the same way. I'm telling you, some guys fought until the end. Some guys can do it, some guys can't. We had some guys that didn't come back. You appreciate those that do it like they did. I won't ever forget them.

"I'm probably going to lose it if you make me keep talking about Tyler. Incredible. I've had a lot of tough players, but few like him.

"People in Arkansas need to always hold him close, always appreciate what he did here. I think they do. I've said it before, but I love him. The relationship I have with him is pretty special."

Wilson said he doesn't tear up, but said he had a sentimental tweet on Friday night after watching a power point video with the team that showed him as a 175-pound freshman walking into the Broyles Center.

"I don't normally get choked up, but I did a little last night," he said. "I kinda let the memories get to me last night."

The Greenwood product said he had memories of a high school comeback in the state title game as the Hogs rolled down the field at the end. They got one last chance with 1:26 left after Drew Alleman kicked a 27-yard field goal with 1:26 left to make it 20-13.

Wilson led the Hogs from their own 22-yard line to the LSU 18-yard line when Wilson spiked the ball to stop the clock with six seconds left. He said he thought he would have a seam route open to the left, but LSU had it covered.

"I don't know, it all happened pretty quick," Wilson said. "I know I stepped up from the pocket to the right and saw Mekale McKay in the corner of the end zone. I just put it too high for him to get."

It was a bizarre game with the same kind of twists that doomed the Hogs all season. There were big mistakes in the kicking game and not enough points for four red zone possessions.

Dennis Johnson lost a fumble at the LSU 2-yard line to ruin The Opening UA possession. Zach Hocker missed field goals of 40 and 43 yards in the first half and was benched in favor of John Henson.

The Hogs led in total yards, 462 to 306, but the Tigers cashed a Wilson interception with an 8-yard drive for Alleman's 49-yard field goal.

"We had an open man," Wilson said of his throw down the sideline for Demetrius Wilson. "But I put it up too high and the wind got it. I just didn't put enough on it and it hung up."

Then, after Henson booted a 25-yarder early in the second half for the first UA points, Michael Ford returned the Hocker kickoff 86 yards to the UA 14. Jeremy Hill scored on a 1-yard plunge to make it 17-3.

Wilson led the Hogs back with a seven-play, 74-yard scoring march with the clincher a 28-yard pass to McKay. It was 17-10 with 5:52 left in the third.

The fourth quarter looked promising. The Hogs dominated in the trenches and opened it by marching to the LSU 1-yard line, most of it with Wilson throws underneath to Knile Davis and Jonathan Williams. There was a 37-yard wheel route throw on fourth-and-1 to the LSU 9-yard line. Hamilton took a first-down throw inside the 1-yard line.

From there, things didn't fall right for the Hogs. As Smith later said, they lacked "the defining play," something that perhaps defines the season.

On second down, Wilson had fullback Morgan Linton in the flats, but the walk-on blocking back was blown up as the ball arrived and it went incomplete.

Wilson jumped between the guard and tackle on the right side for a sneak on third down and was ruled down short of the goal line.

"I thought I was in," Wilson said. "But they probably didn't have a clear view on the replay. Really, we had three times that I thought we were going to get it in that time. I thought Cobi was going to get in. I thought Morgan was going to get in. I thought I was in."

Fans booed as Smith ordered Henson to boot the 17-yard field goal to close the gap to 17-13 with 12:17 left.

"It was the right call," Smith said. "You have to get two scores. I think I have my map right on that. You have to get points."

LSU got the break of the game on their next possession when Trey Flowers sacked Zach Mettenberger, stripping the ball and falling on it at the LSU 25-yard line with 11 minutes to go. But the play had been blown dead because of movement by a wide receiver.

"It was the right call," Smith said. "But the thing was, he didn't make the call until after the play."

Smith spent that moment in the post-game interviews going over the other critical call by Matt Austin's SEC crew. An assistant coach on the UA sideline got an unsportsmanlike call costing the Hogs 15 yards to help the Tigers convert a third-and-4 that seemed like it was going to be third-and-9 for a delay of game penalty that was wiped out by a late LSU timeout.

"The assistant coach feels bad, but I didn't hear anything that I would think would be called in any league I've ever been," Smith said. "I think it's a deal where he had rabbit ears. I didn't hear any cussing."

Three plays later Mettenberger fired to the back of the end zone where Jarvis Landry made a one-hand snare as he was falling towards across the end line. It gave the Tigers a 10-0 lead with 1:12 left in the half, the intermission score.

"The first half was a heck of a battle," Smith said. "They ended up making one great catch. That was a great athlete making a great play."

Smith praised the defense for holding the Tigers to just 89 yards on 39 rushes.

"Our defense played their tails off," he said, "they really did. It forced them to throw the ball. We missed a tackle or two. Again, you have to give credit to their guys, they are awfully good kids in those uniforms making you miss tackles. Our defense played hard and I felt like we were really dominating defensively in the second half. We had to rely on those guys and say, 'One more time, go get the ball back one more time with six minutes to go. We had a chance to win."

LSU coach Les Miles said the Hogs had a good plan.

"They came after us," he said. "They stunted, they blitzed, they did the right things. It was a nice addition to their plan. We have to throw the ball better and protect the quarterback better. I give credit to the opponent."

UA defensive coordinator Paul Haynes said there were a few more wrinkles.

"We brought safeties into the box a little more," he said. "But the big key was that our coverage was finally better. I thought we covered much better. Maybe we gave up a couple, but our guys were in better position. We did that better probably and that was the main thing."

It wasn't enough. However, Wilson said it won't change the fact that the Hogs gave it everything.

"We made mistakes and did the same thing we've done all year, not get it in the end zone," he said. "That kills you and makes it so tough.

"The way we played defensively was incredible. Offensively, we gave them a lot to look at and executed pretty well. We just didn't execute the defining plays.

"This place is pretty special. To go out on your own terms is how everyone wants to play the game. I think that was Cobi, too. He wanted to go out on his terms and I respect him for that."

There was a lot to respect about the effort, just not enough to get a victory, a lot like the rest of the season.

A. J. Turner applies a tackle at the line of scrimmage.

Cobi Hamilton fights through a defender.

Jonathan Williams sails for a 37-yard play.

Knile Davis rolls after a catch.

Photos by Marc F. Henning, Hawgs Illustrated

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