Arkansas football: Grading the Razorbacks' loss at Kentucky
Another disappointing loss sent Arkansas to 2-4 for the season and 0-3 in SEC play. The Razorbacks have lost three straight, all by a touchdown or less. The 24-20 defeat at Kentucky on Saturday pretty much typified the season to this point — a good effort, just not good enough.
Here are three things I liked about the game, and five more that I didn’t like.
What I liked
1. Fast start
The Razorbacks came out firing on all cylinders to open the game. They scored quickly thanks to a 74-yard touchdown run by Rakeem Boyd on the second play of the game. Then, after punting on its next possession, Arkansas added field goals on its following two drives and led 13-0 midway through the second quarter. The Razorbacks appeared to be well on their way to an SEC road victory, but it was not to be.
2. Ben Hicks’ spark
After entering the game in the third quarter following a Kentucky touchdown that put the Wildcats ahead 17-13, Hicks responded with a short touchdown drive on his second possession to put Arkansas back on top, 20-17. And after Kentucky regained the lead, 24-20, Hicks marched the Razorbacks 60 yards in 11 plays. But Arkansas’ final drive of the game came up just short, and the Razorbacks turned the ball over on downs at the Kentucky 22-yard line.
Hicks completed 5 of 8 passes for 81 yards and ran four times for 5 yards.
3. De’Jon Harris
Just looking for anything positive to say about the defense here. Harris recorded 10 tackles, six of them solo. He did prove to be disruptive at times, making a tackle for a loss as well as recovering a fumble.
What I didn’t like
1. Run defense
Arkansas had no answer for Kentucky’s third-string quarterback, Lynn Bowden Jr., who rushed for 196 yards and two touchdowns on a game-high 24 carries. In all, the Razorbacks yielded 330 yards on the ground to a Wildcats team that entered the game ranked No. 8 in the SEC in rushing, averaging 165 yards per game.
2. Inability to put the game away
After building a 13-0 lead, the Razorbacks took the foot off the gas and let Kentucky back into a game they should have put away early. Arkansas went three-and-out on its next two possessions and didn’t venture into Kentucky territory again until Treylon Burks returned a punt 26 yards to the Wildcats 30-yard line. By that time, Kentucky had rallied for a 17-13 lead. Even after turning Burks’ stellar punt return into a touchdown and a 20-17 lead, the Razorbacks still couldn’t seal the deal.
3. Nick Starkel regression
He missed wide-open receivers and was generally ineffective against a very mediocre pass defense. Starkel completed just three of his last 13 attempts for 15 yards to finish the game 7-of-19 for 41 yards before being benched late in the third quarter. It seems every time Chad Morris hands the reins to Starkel, he gives the head coach reason to take them back.
4. Line blocking
The offensive line wasn’t very impressive. Kentucky was able to break through for seven tackles for loss, including three sacks and four quarterback hurries. And outside of Boyd’s 74-yard touchdown run, Arkansas couldn’t open running lanes, rushing for just 109 yards on 29 carries after that.
5. Defense gassed
Blame it on the offense’s inability to sustain drives, thus putting the defense on the field too long. But the Razorbacks were spent, and Kentucky scored touchdowns on two of its final three possessions before assuming victory formation. The Razorbacks defense yielded 75 and 68 yards to Kentucky in its final two drives of the game.