HOG CALLS:

Hogs and ’Dogs each rely on a Tyler

By: Nate Allen
Published: Saturday, November 17, 2012
Tyler Wilson was one of six Arkansas players invited to the 2013 NFL combine.
Photo by Samantha Baker
Tyler Wilson was one of six Arkansas players invited to the 2013 NFL combine.

— Today’s Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs game almost assuredly will hinge on Tyler.

Mississippi State quarterbacks with a Tyler, too. In fact, fourth-year junior quarterback Tyler Russell has become about as important to Mississippi State as fifth-year senior Tyler Wilson, first-team All-SEC in 2011, is to the Razorbacks.

Quarterbacking, said Arkansas Coach John L. Smith, a Razorbacks assistant from 2009 to 2011 as Arkansas annually defeated Mississippi State in its SEC West game, is the principal reason Arkansas has this current 3-0 hold on the ’Dogs.

Ryan Mallett in 2009 and 2010 and Wilson, 32 of 43 for 365 yards and 3 touchdowns vs. Mississippi State last year, were just better than any combination of quarterbacks that Coach Dan Mullen threw at Arkansas.

Russell was an apprenticing reserve in 2010 and kind of an apprenticing occasional starter in 2011. He’s nobody’s apprentice now, quarterbacking the Bulldogs, 7-3, 3-3, against the Razorbacks, 4-6, 2-4. Russell has thrown the same number of interceptions, just four, on 301 passes this year that he did throwing 129 passes last year. He’s completed 182, improving his completion percentage from 53 to 60 while more than doubling his touchdown passes from 8 to 17.

Wilson is as good as ever, but other than senior receiver Cobi Hamilton, 69 catches for 1,077 for Razorbacks records, his supporting cast isn’t. So many key parts either graduated from last year’s 11-2 team or are unavailable — like injured senior tight Chris Gragg and suspended junior receiver Brandon Mitchell.

So circumstances are closing the gap between the Tylers.

In other phases, Smith said Mississippi State always has been “an athletic, physical team” on both sides of the ball and special teams.

“Now they are getting great play from their quarterback,” Smith said. “I don’t know if they have had the play from the quarterbacks in the past that they are getting from this guy.”

Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen credits maturity with making this guy State’s guy.

“I think he has just grown up a lot,” Mullen said. “Tyler has always been a guy that can throw the football and he’ll stand in the pocket — he’s got a lot of toughness. But I think he just really understands not just our offense but what defenses are doing trying to stop us. That allows him to make quicker decisions.”

Meanwhile, don’t believe that the Bulldogs will overlook Arkansas’ Tyler.

“He’s had a career day against us,” Mullen said. “Even though they lost a lot of talent at receiver, he is still a great quarterback getting the ball where it needs to be and giving those guys chances to make plays.”

RANKIN RECOVERING

Friends of Tommy Rankin will be thrilled to know the shooting guard sixth man of Arkansas’ 1958 Southwest Conference championship basketball season shot through major surgery hitting nothing but net.

An aneurysm was capped and blocked arteries unblocked.

Tommy was calling folks just a couple of days after the surgery and anticipating rejoining wife, Barbara, at their Jonesboro home by the weekend.

Sports, Pages 20 on 11/17/2012

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