It's clear that Tyler Wilson's actions on the field and Alonzo Highsmith's ones in the weight room have been the most important things to happen for a reeling Arkansas football team this week.
That was the summation of Razorback head coach John L. Smith, who shared his thoughts Wednesday on the SEC Teleconference after two embarrassing losses in as many weeks.
It seems Highsmith – a senior linebacker - and strength and conditioning coach Jason Veltkamp ripped down all the games on the schedule in the weight room except for this Saturday's home game with Rutgers (3-0).
"Symbolically the kids are saying that we don't want to look at anything other than the Rutgers game," Smith said. "That was the only thing that was (left) up there. I believe it was Highsmith that got up and ripped it down. He and Coach V(eltkamp).
"They said we are basically going to take everything off that schedule but Rutgers – that is all we need to think about," Smith added. "That is a great statement for him to make and kind of the mindset for our football team. We don't want to be looking at anything but them."
That led to Wilson, Arkansas' senior starting quarterback, then hitting the practice field on Tuesday afternoon.
"What a great spark he brought to our football team and our practice and it was a positive and a good day," Smith said. "When he is out there he definitely is the leader and the spokesman and he provides us those things."
Wilson has still not been cleared and is taking daily tests to continue to chart his progress.
"Tyler Wilson has been out there and we have at least been preparing like Tyler is going to be here," Smith said. "We still have not gotten clearance yet of course. So we are waiting and hoping and have our fingers crossed that he will be ready to go on Saturday and get cleared. At least we are optimistic that may happen."
Smith was asked if his team is having a bigger challenge physically or mentally in getting over the back-to-back home losses to Louisiana-Monroe (34-31) and top-ranked Alabama (52-0).
"I believe is it a little bit of both," Smith said. "Because mentally we are down and hurting. We have been working our tail off and fighting back to make sure that we stay positive and taking the field with an attitude that we have to get better, we are going to get better.
"But also when you have some bodies out of there, it creates a little bit of a physical aspect that you have to come up with some guys to overcome that," Smith added.
It would certainly help Arkansas to have a better day rushing on Saturday than it has in the first three games as Knile Davis has seemingly been trying to shake off the rust of being out a full season.
"We have to get better on those spots as far as people blocking for him," Smith said. "It is not all Knile by any means, but I think it takes a little bit of time – and has been – for a guy coming off an injury. It is not going to happen right away particularly going through fall ball and making sure we didn't hit him."
Smith said he saw something different from Davis last week.
"I think he is starting to get confidence in that not only can I take a hit, but I can deliver a hit," Smith said. "He is starting to deliver some blows and being the Knile that you saw a couple of years ago."
Smith noted that the Razorbacks (1-2) are facing a very good football team in the Scarlet Knights.
"We are trying to get ready for an awful good football team," Smith said. "They are 3-0 and coming in here on a roll. So we have to do everything in our power to get prepared."
Rutgers has a solid running back in Jawan Jamison, who had a whopping 41 carries for 151 yards last week in a 23-13 win at South Florida.
The Arkansas coach compared him to Razorback running back Dennis Johnson.
"If I had to pick somebody to relate him to, it would be Dennis Johnson," Smith said. "He is a kid that can break a tackle and they have speed enough to go by you as well."
He's not their only weapon as sophomore quarterback Gary Nova has shined and has some big-play threats – albeit the Scarlet Knights are averaging just 24.3 points and have only scored three of its eight times in the red zone this season.
"He is a big, strong, good running back," Smith said. "…But they are scary at the wideout position as well. They have some big good looking kids that can catch the football and the quarterback is very, very good as far as spreading the ball around."
Rutgers' defense has been its strong point the past two seasons and is giving up just over eight points this season.
Arkansas' defense has not been a strength and certainly has to improve this week according to Smith.
"You take a look at all of it and I think we need better play out of our linebackers and more consistent play there as well," Smith said. "I think our front is gradually getting better, but I think our linebackers are a little bit inconsistent."
Smith said that Saturday's game is nearing a sell out.
"We want our fans to know that – gosh – we appreciate all they given us this week," Smith said. "It is pretty close to being sold out and we'd like to get there because we go on the road for the next couple of weeks. Hopefully we can get this thing sold out by Saturday."
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