Arkansas football: Why starting John Stephen Jones at QB is the wrong move
When you’ve given up on winning, appeasing the money men is your last resort. That’s where Arkansas football finds itself, 9 games into the 2019 season, the 2nd under head coach Chad Morris.
Hanging by a thread to his job, Morris failed in his attempt to plug transfer quarterbacks Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel into his system.
Luring Hicks to Arkansas made perfect sense, on paper. While at SMU, Morris watched Hicks rewrite the record books for quarterbacks. So when Morris came to Arkansas, the idea of getting Hicks to transfer sure figured to be a sound one.
But the things Hicks did at SMU didn’t translate to SEC football, and maybe Morris’ system doesn’t either. Or maybe he just hasn’t had enough time to get the players needed in the program to make it work. As time marches on, it seems the former is panning out to be true.
As far as Starkel, there was a reason he was a backup at Texas A&M. As a backup or emergency quarterback, Starkel has a role on this roster.
In their 54-24 loss to Mississippi State last Saturday, we saw 2 young quarterbacks come off the bench and do good things. Granted that while both excelled in mop-up roles, the potential was on display from both John Stephen Jones and K.J. Jefferson.
For Jones, grandson of Jerry Jones, former Arkansas player and owner of the Dallas Cowboys, it was his second such outing. Jones completed 6-of-7 passes for 49 yards and a touchdown the week before in a blowout loss to Alabama.
Though his numbers were less impressive on Saturday (4-for-9, 25 yards, 1 TD) they were still somehow good enough for Morris to announce him as the starting quarterback for the game this week against Western Kentucky.
OK, I get it, the transfers have not worked out and at 2-7 what is there to lose by starting the redshirt freshman? Some might even say it’s long overdue. But why Jones? Because his family is loaded, and I don’t mean with athletic ability?
Jefferson is clearly the better talent. The true freshman excited not only the football team Saturday but also had the full support of a Homecoming game crowd, what was left of it. Jefferson sparked the offense in a way that hasn’t been seen all season.
Again, it was accomplished in garbage time, but Jefferson led his team on an impressive touchdown drive that not only showed his abilities as a passer, but perhaps even more encouraging his capabilities as a runner. Jefferson completed a 32-yard pass and then ran for 26 yards and a touchdown. He was 1 of 6 true freshmen on the field for Arkansas during the touchdown drive.
He has the full package and at 6-3, 228 pounds, Jefferson is a much more imposing figure than the 5-11, 199-pound Jones. It’s really no contest which quarterback presents a brighter future for the Razorbacks. And if you’re going to turn to the younger players for the final 3 games of the season, why wouldn’t you choose Jefferson?
Joe Craddock, in Year 2 as the offensive coordinator, said Monday that while Jones will start, Jefferson would take snaps, and earlier rather than later.
“We’re definitely going to see him earlier,” said Craddock, who added that the coaching staff would evaluate which of the two QBs moves the ball better and allot playing time accordingly.
Maybe it’s the intangibles in which Jones has the edge over Jefferson? Maybe he knows the offense better? Who knows. Craddock said the bye week helped immensely in that Jefferson was afforded a good portion of the reps in practice.
My hope is that Morris can figure it out and hand the reins to Jefferson and not give the impression that big boosters are making key decisions.
But that’s where we are today in the big-business of college football.