FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks thought they would be improved from 2019 off 2018 but the manner of their 1-1 start for now indicates otherwise.
The also 1-1 Colorado State University Rams thought they would be improved from 2019 off 2018 and they are, Arkansas coach Chad Morris said.
At 3 p.m. today on SEC Network television, Arkansas of the SEC and Coach Mike Bobo’s Rams of the Mountain West clash in a nonconference game that Arkansas hosts at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Bobo, the former Georgia Bulldogs quarterback (1993-97) and Georgia’s quarterbacks coach become offensive coordinator coach during his 2001-2014 coaching tenure in Athens before head coaching Colorado State since 2015, last year suffered his first losing season in Fort Collins, Colo. Though eventually 3-9 and losing to lower division Illinois State, Bobo’s Rams rallied from down 27-9 to top Arkansas 34-27 in Fort Collins.
Off their 1-1 start, these Rams do appear on the upswing that Morris describes. CSU lost a wild, 52-31 opener two weeks ago to a Colorado Buffaloes team that last week upset then nationally ranked Nebraska.
Last Saturday the Rams routed Western Illinois, 38-13.
“We’ve got a very much improved Colorado State team from a year ago coming in this Saturday,” Morris said. “We know we’re going to get their best shot. With five offensive and six defensive starters returning, they’ve got a lot of experience coming back. They got in a shootout with Colorado. There were some mistakes at the end that kind of let Colorado pull away, but it was nip and tuck. And last week they scored a lot of points.”
Between them, Morris and Arkansas offensive coordinator Joe Craddock called CSU’s defensive line “physical” and the Rams’ linebackers “active and disruptive,” and “their secondary has come a long way. They do a lot of different pressures and different looks.”
Offensively, Rams quarterback Collin Hill, coming off an injury that plagued him throughout 2018 and only throwing three passes off the bench against Arkansas last year, “is an NFL quarterback, and should have been (but for the injury) the starter last year,” Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis said.
Hill, a 6-4, 227 fourth-year junior, thus far has completed 56 of 79 passes for 741 yards for seven touchdowns vs. two interceptions.
He has two exceptionally different favorite receivers. Warren Jackson, the 6-6 junior with 15 catches for 142 yards and a touchdown, and Dante Wright, the 5-8 freshman who is “all over the field,” as a receiver, with 11 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns, a big-play rusher on reverses, plus a punt returner.
For the ground game, the Rams average 4.8 per carry.
Last year’s CSU loss two games into Morris’ first Arkansas season certainly foretold Arkansas’s 2-10 2018 future. The letdown led directly to the Razorbacks being routed 44-17 by North Texas the next week in Fayetteville.
“I thought we learned a lot last year after that Colorado State game,” Morris said, calling his second year Hogs. “An entirely different attitude of a team.”
They need to be. Because outside their locker room confidence does not flow with Arkansas only defeating, lower division Portland State, 20-13 for openers Aug. 31 in Fayetteville.
While underdogs last week in their SEC opener at Ole Miss, on paper Ole Miss, 1-7 in the SEC in 2018, still seemed to be Arkansas’ best 2019 chance at cracking the SEC win column. Last year’s 0-8 SEC Hogs could not.
Last year's Hogs led Ole Miss and came close, eventually losing 37-33 in Little Rock.
Arkansas never led last Saturday in Oxford, losing 31-17.
However in last Saturday’s second half, the Razorbacks at quarterback replaced experience with talent.
So Ben Hicks, the grad transfer who was Morris’ starting quarterback at SMU in 2016 and 2017, sat after Arkansas trailed Ole Miss 10-3 at half.
Nick Starkel, the grad transfer from Texas A&M, passed for 201 yards second half yards. Starkel starts vs. Colorado State bringing a bigger arm that Morris hopes will back the Rams’ run support off the line of scrimmage.
“We got into a lot more of a groove and a rhythm,” Morris said. “So I expect to see that this week and moving forward with Nick. He definitely provides an arm talent that stretches sideline to sideline and vertical as well.”
Starkel wasn’t perfect. In alignments and thoroughly knowing Morris’ offense, Arkansas at times missed Hicks’ experience in Oxford.
Nevertheless, Starkel, Arkansas’ coaches and players said, provided “a spark.”
For now “a spark” means hope for a team still trying to ignite.