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5 Thoughts On The Loss Of Knile Davis
Arkansas RB Knile Davis
Now that Arkansas has likely lost lost its star tailback for the season, the Razorbacks all of a sudden looks like a team thin at running back, with a rebuilt offensive line and an unproven quarterback. CFN's SEC Bloggers break down what this means for the Arkansas offense, who are his likely replacements, and its impact for quarterback Tyler Wilson specifically.
David Sweigart: On what happened
On Thursday, Arkansas had its first day of fall camp in which players were allowed to be tackled. On the seventh play of the night, and the third carry for Knile Davis, the star running back shattered his left ankle.
Davis had to be carted off the field and is expected to miss the entire 2011 season. There is no mention yet as to whether or not the injury will require surgery, but the word from several who were there is that Davis’ scream will haunt them.
This is the third time Davis has broken an ankle, and you absolutely feel terrible for the running back who burst on the scene in 2010, leading all backs with more than 1,300 yards rushing. Davis was a CFN preseason All-SEC first team running back, and was primed for another stellar year.
Barrett Sallee: On what this means for the Arkansas offense
First and foremost, you hate this for Davis.
This is the worst part of the game. Football is a dangerous sport, and any player that straps on the pads takes a big risk on every play. Often times, we lose sight of that fact.
For Arkansas' 2011 season, the loss of Knile Davis is enormous. There's a reason he received one of my two votes for All-SEC running back ahead of Alabama's Trent Richardson and Auburn's Michael Dyer – unlike those two, Davis already has carried his team.
When he took over as the feature back last season, that offense turned into a machine. Davis rushed for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2010, and rushed for more than 100 yards in seven of Arkansas' final eight games…all of which were wins (or losses that the opponent vacated). With a rebuilt offensive line and a brand new quarterback, Davis was being counted on to be the safety net as the new-look Arkansas offense comes together early in the 2011 season.
Arkansas was very much in the National Title race. With a stud group of receivers, Davis toting the rock and a veteran defense, Arkansas had the talent and the coaching to hoist the crystal football in New Orleans early in 2011. But without Davis, it certainly changes things. Broderick Green tore his ACL in the spring, which leaves Ronnie Wingo and Dennis Johnson as the two players likely to receive the majority of the carries. Both are capable…but even together, they're not Knile Davis.
The injury takes Arkansas from a National Title contender to a long shot to win the SEC West.
Russ Mitchell: On who will likely replace Davis
Suddenly the springtime ACL injury to senior running back Green is no longer an afterthought.
Before we start listing who the Hogs will run out in Davis’ stead, let alone how effective they might be, remember this: Knile didn’t even start getting significant carries last season until game six against Auburn (14). In the first five games he only averaged 6 carries per game.
For those who haven’t had their second cup of coffee, we’ll break it down even further for you. That means Davis led the conference in rushing on basically half a season’s worth of carries. Moreover, it was the tougher half of the schedule.
Now, how do you replace that? How do you go “up” from there?
You don’t. This is a truly critical blow for the Arkansas season. Some will argue that since Davis wasn’t even the starter last year, it can happen again. That another backup could come in and significantly surpass expectations.
Sure it can happen. Why couldn’t Arkansas catch lighting in a bottle for two years in a row?
First, we’re not going to call this job a burden. Playing running back under an established Bobby Petrino team might be the sweetest job in America. Week in and out your opponents will be game planning to stop the pass. Right off the bat, whoever wins this job has that going for him.
That responsibility will likely fall on the shoulders of junior Ronnie Wingo and redshirt junior Dennis Johnson. At 6-3, 231 pounds, Wingo is the larger of the two. In fact, Wingo is taller and heavier than the injured Davis, and he will likely carry most of the load.
Fortunately for Petrino, a light appeared to go off for Wingo this spring, and he shined through practice and the game. It could be argued he had an even better spring than Davis.
Johnson runs a lot like Maurice Jones-Drew. He’s hard to tackle, with a low center of gravity. Wingo will likely get the starting job, but consider Johnson a 1b – he’ll get a fair share of the carries.
If Wingo or Johnson fails to answer the call, look for true freshman Kody Walker to step in. The book on the 6-1, 230 pound Missouri native is that he uses his hips well and is particularly difficult to tackle.
Petrino likes his running backs big, and he certainly has a stable of them to choose from. But he and the Razorback faithful will be exceptionally fortunate if any of them can come close to the expectations set for Knile Davis.
Arkansas will be ok – there are too many pieces in place. But ok’s not good enough for the Hogs anymore. Petrino has set the bar high – Championships (West, Conference or National) are now the goal in R-Kansas…all of which became improbable given Thursday’s injury to Davis.
Brian Harbach: How this affects Tyler Wilson
Good quarterbacks are made great with elite and healthy running backs. Look at what Matthew Stafford did with Knowshon Moreno, Greg McElroy with Mark Ingram, Jason Campbell with Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams. The list goes on…
While Arkansas still has the best group of receivers in the country (even if Greg Childs does appear to be a bit gimpy), the possible loss of Davis is a serious blow to the development of Tyler Wilson.
Not buying it? Well look at the Razorbacks first six games last year and the final six. The Hogs averaged 113.6 yards per game rushing the first six games and started with a 4-2 record. Once Davis became the feature back in the final six games, the offense Arkansas rushing attack averaged 188 yards a game and the Hogs went 6-0.
Davis was the difference between what would have been an 8-4 season and a Music City bowl invite and a 10-2 campaign that included a trip to New Orleans.
A great running back keeps the defense honest and allows more space in the second level for receivers and tight ends. Ryan Mallett benefited from this over and over last year as teams were forced to account for Davis every play. Flash back to the win over LSU...
Without Davis, Wilson won't get the same opportunities Mallett did last year. He won't get the same windows to throw into and the receivers won’t have the space to get free. He is the difference between a championship season and a good year for Arkansas. Davis is the difference between an All-SEC selection for Wilson and just being another QB SEC defenses have to worry about.
Gabe Harris: On how the Alabama and LSU games might be different now
Arkansas’ second half of the 2010 season set the Razorbacks up for a great 2011. The Hogs had one of the best years in school history and were returning the SEC’s leading rusher. As noted above, the difference between 2010’s second and first halves was the running game of Davis.
When Arkansas found that rushing attack it was able to hang in and beat anyone on its schedule. When it didn’t have a running game, it was unable to hold a lead - like at home against Alabama in a game the Hogs should have won.
Now that Arkansas has lost its hammer, the Razorbacks all of a sudden looks like a team thin at running back, with a rebuilt offensive line and an unproven quarterback; not an ideal recipe for a national championship run, much less a SEC championship contender. If Arkansas is not a contender, how is it going to compete with Alabama and LSU? On the road?
Going toe-to-toe with the two SEC favorites does not seem likely anymore. The LSU and Alabama defenses have consistently been the best in the SEC, and both look to field some of their best this season. It was going to be hard enough to win on the road against those two programs WITH a strong running game, but that advantage has now been lost.
Arkansas will not be able to protect a lead with its running game (if they are able to get one). When Alabama and LSU get a lead they will blitz, blitz, blitz Tyler Wilson. Then they will blitz some more. Remember – the Hogs are replacing both offensive tackles, and just kicked one perspective starter off the team.
How do you spell “Blitz me please” in the SEC? “N-o-K-n-i-l-e-D-a-v-i-s”.
The lack of a running game will make Arkansas one-dimensional and unable to stay on the field with teams with strong defenses – particularly the Tigers and Tide.
Kiss the SEC championship goodbye, Razorbacks – you’re now in a fight for third place in the SEC West and a spot in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Please follow Russ Mitchell on Twitter @russmitchellsec, Brian Harbach @harbabd, Gabe Harris @gpharris Barrett Sallee @barrettsallee and David Sweigart @DMS225.
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