football

Tide defense bears down on Wilson

TUSCALOOSA | The box score reflects that University of Arkansas junior quarterback Tyler Wilson was sacked zero times.
Oh, how statistics can be deceiving.
Wilson wasn't sacked but Alabama hurried, harassed and just plain beat him up Saturday afternoon in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams. Wilson threw for 185 yards on 35 attempts, a paltry 5.3-yard-per-attempt average for a Razorbacks offense that makes its living throwing the football.
Wilson was hit several times and slammed to the turf a couple of more by a rude host of Tide defenders, including Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Adrian Hubbard and Quinton Dial. After a couple of particularly hard hits, Wilson was slow to rise.
So that's what UA coach Nick Saban means when he says "affect the quarterback."
"You've got to affect the quarterback. Sacking him affects him, but hitting him all the time and making him move his feet in the pocket because you're pushing the pocket affects him, too," Saban said. "It disrupts the timing of what they're trying to do."
Saban estimated that Alabama blitzed only one time, focused instead on making Wilson uncomfortable, chasing him for the pocket and hitting him.
Wilson managed to throw two touchdowns against the talented Crimson Tide secondary, but even on a 19-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, he was firmly planted into the grass at Bryant-Denny Stadium by Hubbard, a 6-foot-6, 237-pound linebacker.
With 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and trailing by 24, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino had seen enough. He pulled Wilson for backup Brandon Mitchell, opting to save his starting quarterback from more punishment.
"He got hit a lot," Petrino said.
Battered and bruised, Wilson will be wearing the signs of those hits for the next couple of days as Arkansas begins preparation for next Saturday's game against Texas A&M.
"You want to do that to the quarterback," UA junior defensive end Damion Square said. "You want to get in the quarterback's head. It takes some pressure off the guys in the back end. You want to get big hits on the quarterback whenever you can. That's our job."
The Crimson Tide defense finally got a sack when UA defensive lineman Nick Gentry greeted Mitchell with a 10-yard loss. And while fans may grumble about the lack of sacks from the Alabama defensive front, players and coaches understand there is more than one way to "affect the quarterback."
"We're a run-first team," Square said. "We're going to play the run. We're going to take the run away and make a team one-dimensional to where they have to convert the pass. As far as sacks go, we really don't play the game for sacks. As a D-lineman I want sacks, but at the same time, you have to affect the quarterback the best way you possibly can. That's sacks, getting a hand up, getting in his face, getting a good pressure. All of that contributes to the back end."
Midway through the third quarter, the Alabama players could tell that Wilson was getting fatigued as a result of the compilation of hits he'd received. By the start of the fourth quarter, they could tell he was finished.
"We could tell. Any sign of weakness is always good for us," junior defensive tackle Jesse Williams said. "We just came after him the whole game. That was our goal. It worked out good for us."
The UA defensive front stymied the ground game as well, limiting the Hogs to just 17 yards on 19 attempts.
Reach Aaron Suttles at aaron.suttles@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0229.
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