The Arkansas Razorbacks’ football season reminds me of the old “He-Haw” skit that featured Archie Campbell, Roy Clark and another hillbilly or two singing, “Gloom, despair, and agony on me. If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”
First-year coach Chad Morris had what would have been his first SEC victory slip through his hands last Saturday when the Ole Miss Rebels held the Hogs scoreless in the fourth quarter and scored two touchdowns of their own to post a 37-33 victory over Arkansas.
Take nothing away from the Rebels (5-2, 1-2 SEC). They won the game. However, there is a convincing fan argument that the Hogs would have likely won the ballgame if any one of Ty Storey, Rakeem Boyd, or Devwah Whaley had not been injured in the game.
That’s how close the football game was. That’s how close the Razorbacks (1-6, 0-4 SEC) were to winning.
Few teams in college football are capable of winning a close game if they lose their starting quarterbacks during a game. Would Ole Miss have beaten Arkansas if SEC Player of the Week Jordan Ta’amu had suffered an injury in the game?
However, the Hogs might have won if backup QB Cole Kelley would have had the ability to hand off to either of the Razorbacks top two backs, but the Hogs lost their two best running backs in Boyd and Whaley, who helped the Razorbacks to a 299-yard rushing performance before their day was ended, and before Storey went out of the game.
Their injuries, plus an injured ankle to T.J. Hammonds, left the Hogs depleted at running back with Chase Hayden the only option. Maleek Williams wasn’t on the travel roster.
In the future, Morris probably ought to rethink carrying only three healthy running backs into an SEC game.
I’ve seen much better Razorback teams falter when their top two running backs have been injured during a game.
In 2003, perhaps Houston Nutt’s most talented Razorback team lost to the Rebels at Oxford, Miss., 19-7, when Cedric Cobbs and De’Arrius Howard, both came up lame.
Going even further back, Baylor shocked an undefeated, No. 5-rated Razorback team in 1982, 24-17, when future pros Gary Anderson and Jesse Clarke were both hurt in the contest.
The loss of Boyd, Whaley, and Storey, along with the stunning play of Ta’amu for the Rebels, created an insurmountable wall for the Razorbacks to climb last Saturday. The Hogs needed just one more stop or one more touchdown, and victory would have been theirs.
While Arkansas’ coaches danced around it Monday, it seems that Storey suffered a concussion. Storey crumpled to the ground in the fourth quarter Saturday while being helped up after absorbing one of many hard hits on a 10-yard run.
Whaley underwent surgery on his ankle Monday and is out for Saturday’s 11 a.m. game with Tulsa at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Morris indicated that Boyd would play against the Golden Hurricane in the game that will be televised by the SEC Network.
So the major question going forward is who will start at quarterback if Storey can’t go?
ESPN confused fans when announcer Tom Hart said that members of the Arkansas staff had told them freshman Connor Noland got more second-team snaps during practice that week than Cole Kelley.
From the standpoint of Morris and Arkansas offensive coordinator Joe Craddock’s comments Monday, it seems ESPN’s people misunderstood “more” as being more than Kelley, when it actually meant that Noland was getting more second-team snaps than he had before with him and Kelley splitting second-team snaps.
That might as well be ancient history, though.
The safe answer, of course, is Cole Kelley. He has much more experience.
However, his experience in Morris’ offense hasn’t exactly been glowing. It’s clear from Kelley’s performance against the Rebels, particularly his late-game interception, that he and Arkansas’ receivers aren’t on the same page in Morris’ offense. The same struggles led to four of Arkansas’ 6 interceptions against North Texas.
The confusion is so great that I’m not sure it can be cleared up even if Kelley takes all of the first-team reps this week in practice.
From what I’ve seen of Kelley this season, I don’t have a great deal of confidence that he has the knowledge of the offense to lead the Razorbacks to victory against Tulsa or any reputable opponent.
So, should true freshman Noland start?
Based on Kelley going into the game against Ole Miss last week, I’d say probably not, but I wouldn’t be opposed to it.
If the coaches had great confidence in Noland’s ability to lead the team, he would have played Saturday night.
That said, if Storey can’t go, Noland should at least play meaningful downs against the Golden Hurricane. Noland has only appeared in one game this season, so he can play in three more and still retain his redshirt year.
While I like the energy, enthusiasm, team spirit, and arm of Kelley, he has had plenty of chances this season to be Arkansas’ quarterback and play winning football, and unfortunately it just hasn’t happened.
Unless he is totally unprepared, Noland should get a shot.
Hopefully the point is moot, and Storey can start and lead the Razorbacks to a much-needed victory over Tulsa.
It’s past time for the Hogs to begin playing winning football again.