The Arkansas Razorbacks wanted to compete for an SEC title this season, but without quarterback Tyler Wilson, they couldn’t even beat Louisiana-Monroe, who stunned the Razorbacks with a 34-31 overtime win in Little Rock.
It was supposed to be an easy tune-up game for Arkansas before facing #1 Alabama, but it turned into an historic upset for the Warhawks, marking the first time a team from the Sun Belt Conference has beaten an FBS school ranked in the top ten.
Wilson was in the early conversation for the Heisman Trophy, but the Warhawks’ quarterback, junior Kolton Browning, stole the show on Saturday night, throwing 67 times for 412 yards and three touchdowns, including the game winner.
Browning was a huge factor for ULM in a game that Arkansas should’ve won – and might have won, had Wilson stayed healthy.
Wilson threw an interception on the Hogs’ first possession of the game, leading to a ULM touchdown drive, but Wilson and the Razorbacks bounced back. The team had a comfortable 21-7 lead at the half, and Wilson threw for 196 yards and two touchdowns before halftime.
The Razorbacks ran into trouble in the third quarter, when freshman Brandon Allen came in to replace Wilson at quarterback. Wilson was repeatedly hit hard in the first half and came out of the game with what the team officially called “an injury above the shoulder.”
Specifics of the injury remain unclear. Initial rumors said Wilson may have suffered from concussion-like symptoms, and CBS Sports Radio retracted a report that Wilson would miss several weeks with a broken collarbone.
Although unexpectedly coming off the bench is a challenge, Allen was clearly outplayed by ULM’s Browning.
Allen threw a touchdown to Mekale McKay to make it 28-7 in the third, but the Warhawks started to come back. A pair of Arkansas penalties helped ULM cut the Razorbacks’ lead to 28-14, and Browning completed 6 of 7 passes on the following possession to narrow the gap even further.
The virtually-unknown, all-Louisiana quarterback led ULM down the field on a 10-play, 90-yard scoring drive, converting a 4th and 10 into the tying touchdown with under a minute left in regulation.
In the Razorbacks’ overtime possession, Allen, whose late fourth-quarter interception helped send the game into extra minutes, threw five incomplete passes.
Louisiana-Monroe seemed destined for a similar outcome until Browning stepped up and, with 4th and 1, ran 16 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
The game was a showcase for Browning, who put up gaudy passing numbers and also carried the ball 15 times for 76 yards as he crashed Allen’s surprise party. The Warhawks’ quarterback, who was just shy of 3,000 total yards of offense in 2011, is the team’s current single-season record holder for plays and completions.
The Razorbacks’ quarterback’s mysterious head/neck/collarbone injury could become as memorable as Browning’s on-field performance, but for all the wrong reasons.
It’s very possible Wilson will be out with his undetermined injury for some length of time, which is bad news for the Razorbacks. Heading into their tough SEC schedule, they’ll need a leader on offense who can help manufacture more than just 108 yards in a half against a team like ULM – because the teams they’re about to play are not like ULM.
Next week, Arkansas plays Alabama, the top-ranked team in the nation, followed by a non-conference matchup with Rutgers, a meeting with new SEC school Texas A&M, and a date with Auburn.
The Razorbacks, initially thought to have an outside chance at an SEC run, could be in for a very, very rough stretch with Wilson out.
Allen was fine in garbage time against Jacksonville State, but he wasn’t able to maintain a three-touchdown lead over a team that hadn’t won a season opener in six years. And his next test, if Wilson is ruled out for this week, is to take on Alabama. Alabama, whose defense was the nation’s top passing, rushing, scoring and total defense in 2011. Sounds like fun, huh?
Unfortunately for Arkansas, the quarterback wasn’t the only Razorback to leave with a potentially serious injury.
Cornerback Tevin Mitchel collided head-on with a teammate, Alonzo Highsmith, and play was stopped while he was carted off the field. Starting fullback Kody Walker was also carted off in the fourth quarter with an apparent leg injury.
Mitchel’s accident was by far the scariest of the three; details have not been released but ESPNU reported Mitchel was “verbally responsive” to doctors, a good sign so far.
For the non-Arkansas football fans watching, it was an exciting win from an underdog that never stopped fighting. For Kolton Browning, it was the win of his life, but for Arkansas, it was a costly loss for the team’s record and for its roster.