Arkansas football: Starkel pumps new life in Hogs' offense
Welcome to Fayetteville, Nick Starkel! The transfer quarterback pumped life into what was basically a nonexistent Arkansas offense. That all changed with Starkel under center. The graduate transfer threw for 305 yards and three touchdowns in Arkansas’ 55-34 victory over Colorado State on Saturday.
But it took a couple of key fourth-quarter plays to put away the pesky Rams, who tied the score at 34. Those plays included a Herculean effort by tight end Cheyenne O’Grady, who brushed off half of the Rams’ defense on his way to a 62-yard touchdown play, and a scoop-and-score by LaDarrius Bishop after a beastly forced fumble by Hayden Henry.
Aside from those heroic plays, here are five things I liked about the game and another three things that I didn’t like about it.
1. Nick Starkel
Like the veteran that he is, Starkel stepped into the starting role and didn’t miss a beat. The former starting QB at Texas A&M engineered four scoring drives in the first quarter alone. And though he did overthrow a couple of wide-open receivers and had a few passes batted at the line of scrimmage, Starkel let it fly and was more accurate than not in his throws.
He spread around the wealth, completing passes to eight receivers in the first half. He completed 20 of 35 passes, did not throw a pick and finished with a 158.6 QB rating.
Granted, when you have a quarterback chucking it all over the yard, it becomes much easier to attack a shell-shocked defense. But Chad Morris and his staff had the Rams defense on its heels, at least early on, with a balanced and potent attack. The Hogs rushed 11 times and threw 12 times in a 24-point first quarter, totaling 249 yards.
It wasn’t exactly overpowering as a unit, but collectively the offensive line not only gave Starkel enough time to find a receiver on most occasions, it also opened up running lanes for Rakeem Boyd and Devwah Whaley.
4. Connor Limpert’s leg
The senior nailed a 54-yard field goal with distance to spare in the first quarter and added a 22-yarder on the next possession. For his career, Limpert is 32-of-39. That’s 82 percent accuracy for the Lou Groza Award Watch List nominee, which presently stands as the best in program history.
5. Quick start
The Razorbacks came out fired up behind their new field general and looked as if they might run the Rams out of the stadium. Scoring touchdowns on each of their first three drives, covering 75, 82, and 75 yards, the Hogs added field goals on their next two possessions, piling up 27 points in the first 18-plus minutes.
I didn’t like
1. Run defense
Not only did the front seven lose containment on several running plays, both inside and on the edge, but the secondary took bad angles in the open field, was late to the point of attack and generally was not aggressive on the edge, resulting in some big gains for the Rams. Colorado State’s Marvin Kinsey Jr. rushed for 110 yards (on six carries) in the first quarter alone.
2. Secondary play
Not only were bad angles taken on open-field rushing plays, resulting in big chunks of yardage for Colorado State running backs, but the corners and safeties did a poor job of covering Colorado State receivers, allowing the Rams to make some big plays through the air and stay in the game despite the Razorbacks’ superior effort on offense.
3. Joe Foucha cheap shot
The Arkansas safety deliberately went low on the knee of Colorado State QB Collin Hill, drawing a roughing the passer penalty and knocking Hill out of the game. Foucha went low on Hill’s left knee, which was covered in a brace because Hill has twice torn the ACL in that knee. Foucha was penalized for the egregious move but allowed to remain in the game.