IRVING, Texas -- As the 2012 AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic nears, much of the game's offensive focus has been centered on Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein. And for good reason. But a glance across the field will provide another storyline about another quarterback.
Arkansas' Tyler Wilson is not nearly as physically imposing as Klein and his game is radically different, but his ability to operate the Razorbacks' attack makes him equally dangerous. Generously listed at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Wilson is known for his skills as a thrower. The junior from Greenwood, Ark., completed 63 percent of his passes this season, throwing for 22 touchdowns and just six interceptions on the year. He averaged 285 yards of passing a game, far under the inflated Big 12 standards of some quarterbacks, but still rather prolific numbers.
"Tough. Very tough," was the reaction of K-State defensive coordinator Chris Cosh when asked about Wilson. "Physical, accurate, a 63-percent completion percentage, protects the football. I noticed the 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. That's very impressive."
The Arkansas offense reflects elements of many Big 12 schemes, including Texas Tech, Missouri and Texas A&M, but itâ€™s this quarterback's ability to hit receivers in stride and let them maximize their athletic ability that makes the scheme so dangerous.
"It's nice to play quarterback in an offense like this when you have multiple guys around you like Jarius (Wright) and Joe (Adams), and really all of the guys â€¦ who can really make plays for you and make your job easy," Wilson said.
Expect Wilson to spray the ball around the field to a number of receivers, including imposing tight end Chris Gragg. It's a rhythm offense that puts a defense on its heels, and just when things are starting to unravel for a defense, Wilson takes a shot down field.
"You have guys who can go up and make plays for you," Wilson said. "You have to understand the situation of the game and that you can and can't take chances like that. Obviously, when you have those type of weapons, you tend to let your guys make plays for you."
Combine that point guard mentality with a strong understanding of the game, and it's easy to see why Wilson was named the SEC's first-team all-conference quarterback.
"Tyler has kind of expanded that imaginative part of it because he even does stuff that isnâ€™t drawn up in the playbook," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. "He is a young man that has tremendous vision. He has very, very good instincts. He creates some plays on his own. I have tremendous respect for how hard he played this year, really how hard he has worked in his preparation."
The good news for K-State is surviving a season in the Big 12 means the Wildcats have seen many passing offenses, and better ones, on their schedule. The bad news is at times those offenses have had their way with the Wildcats.
"We all know the Big 12 is heavy on passing so that's an advantage for us," K-State senior linebacker Emmanuel Lamur. "Arkansas spreads the ball out, runs a lot of drag underneath routes. It's all about communication out there and awareness.
"They do a great job with their receivers, they have great speed and you have to give them credit for that. This is going to be a great game and I'm looking forward to it."
However, for everything that is different about the Cotton Bowl's two quarterbacks, there is one striking similarity. Both are crucial leaders for their team.
"Even this week when we are down here and there are a lot of events going on and a lot of people using your time up that you are not normally used to, Tyler has been in the meeting room about every time I go down to the offensive meeting room," Petrino said. "He is in the quarterback meeting room watching extra video, studying practice, studying third downs. So it is something that I really respect him for his hard work and his dedication. It took him three years to get the (starting) job and he has really made the most of it. He has been a really good player for us."