FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas coach Chad Morris announced Cole Kelley as the starting quarterback Saturday against Eastern Illinois. Does that mean Arkansas’ quarterback competition is finished? Not at all.
Morris stated junior Ty Storey — Kelley’s top competitor — will also play in the 2018 season opener.
“We felt going into this first game that Cole had earned that right to start,” Morris said. “It doesn’t say that he’s the finisher, but he’s the starter. Ty is going to play. Regardless, if Ty had started, Cole was going to play.”
Based on the message delivered by Morris, it sounds like Kelley is receiving the first opportunity to start by default more than anything.
Kelley, a 6-7 sophomore, beat out Storey to become the backup to Austin Allen last season. When Allen missed four games with a shoulder injury, Kelley filled in and led the Hogs to a 2-2 record. He passed for 1,038 yards with 8 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.
That experience made him the most logical option to start in Morris’ first season. Kelley failed to gain firm control of the job, though. It’s seemingly for that reason Morris wants to see other quarterbacks play and won’t concede to the idea of Kelley being the top option past Week 1.
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“The thing we were looking for was consistency. And consistency over a long period of time,” Morris said. “I was really in hopes that there would be a clear-cut, boom, here it is, it was evident from the first scrimmage. We didn’t get that. We got a really good, healthy competition at that position.
“This is by no stretch of the imagination saying this is a lifetime contract. I shared that with Cole last night. You don’t have a lifetime contract. Your job is to get the ball in the end zone.”
The lack of consistency from Kelley and Storey also left the opportunity for playing time open to a trio of freshmen — Daulton Hyatt, Connor Noland and John Stephen Jones. Hyatt, who redshirted last season, worked primarily with the scout team during the Hogs’ final preseason scrimmage last Saturday. Morris says Noland and Jones, both true freshmen, are still being groomed to play at some point this season. The new redshirt rule allows both to participate in up to four games and still redshirt.
For at least this week, this is Kelley’s job to lose. There is little margin for error, though, as Morris remains set on keeping other options in consideration.