Arkansas football report card: Ty Storey stakes claim to starting QB job
Arkansas opened its 2018 season Saturday with a 55-20 victory over Eastern Illinois at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The Razorbacks started slowly in their first game under coach Chad Morris before gaining momentum in the second quarter. Behind 28 second-quarter points, Arkansas put the game out of reach and held a 38-6 advantage at halftime on its way to victory.
Here’s how I graded the Razorbacks’ performance:
Cole Kelley started at quarterback and underwhelmed through the Hogs’ first three series. Ty Storey, who was expected to play at some point Saturday, replaced Kelley to begin the fourth series. Storey took advantage of the opportunity by immediately guiding the Hogs on an 80-yard, 11-play touchdown drive. He threw for three touchdowns, rushed for another, and passed for 261 yards while completing 12 of his 17 attempts. Kelley’s final stat line wasn’t bad, completing 9 of 12 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown, but it’s clear Storey is the Hogs’ top option at quarterback right now.
The offensive line is going to be a major problem for the Razorbacks. That was somewhat expected before the season, but this game validated those concerns. Arkansas rushed for just 80 yards on 37 attempts. Starting running back Devwah Whaley was held to 28 yards on 10 carries as the line failed to create running lanes on the majority of his carries. If the Hogs can’t move an average FCS team off the ball, what will happen against SEC opponents?
The defense forced and recovered four fumbles through Eastern Illinois’ first six possessions. It’s important to note they were very much forced, not given away by the Panthers.
The turnovers appeared to be a result of an increased sense of urgency. Rather than sitting back and challenging the opponent to beat them, the Razorbacks defensive line was consistently putting pressure on the quarterback and playing on the other side of the line of scrimmage. The turnovers and increased pressure were positive signs that new defensive coordinator John Chavis’ plan is working.
Special teams: B-plus
Kicker Connor Limpert was perfect on his two field goal attempts, with a long of 35 yards. Top kick returner De’Vion Warren showed some flash with a 34-yard return and an average of just over 25 yards on his four returns. Blake Johnson wasn’t perfect on his four punts, but he managed to pin Eastern Illinois inside its own 15-yard line twice. The Hogs were also solid in kick coverage, as the Panthers averaged just less than 20 yards on their five kickoff returns and gained only three yards on their one punt return.
Starting Kelley over Storey turned out to be the wrong decision. Morris and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock said last Monday that Kelley had earned the start by performing better in the week of practice leading up to the opener. But whatever Kelley had been doing better than Storey wasn’t apparent Saturday. There were also no signs of the new staff improving what has been a very poor offensive line over the past two seasons.
Defensively, the staff deserves a near-perfect grade. That unit looks like it will be one of the most improved in the SEC this season.
So far, so good in the Morris era. The quarterback questions are going to loom, but Storey should get the opportunity to be the starter going forward. Things were expected to get significantly more difficult in Week 2 with a trip to Colorado State. However, the Rams are 0-2 with losses to Hawaii and Colorado. If the Hogs don’t win comfortably next Saturday, they’ll have an extremely tough time finding a way to win any conference games.