Fourth quarter proof of life in Razorback program

It’s alive!

That’s the classic line shrieked by British actor Colin Clive in the 1931 movie version of “Frankenstein” when the doctor’s creation lifted its scarred forearm and hand from the laboratory table after receiving a jolt of electricity.

While I doubt that Arkansas coach Chad Morris uttered anything close to that following the Razorbacks’ 55-34 victory over Colorado State last Saturday, the sentiment fits for the Razorback program that Morris had referred to as a sleeping giant.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the Hogs are ready to terrorize the SEC, but last Saturday brought the first tangible signs of life on the football field that Razorback fans could get excited about for a relatively long time. It certainly was the best day the Hogs and their fans have enjoyed during Morris’ tenure as coach.

A 2-1 record looks so much better than a 1-2 mark, and while on paper, the game looks like a blowout, the score was tied 34-34 going into the fourth quarter and the outcome very much in question.

The fat lady seemed to be singing a familiar tune. You know the one I’m talking about. The one where the Razorbacks get a lead early only to watch it waste away. One could say she was belting out a lack-of-fight song, based on results dating back to the Bret Bielema era.

But according to Morris and several Razorbacks, senior linebacker De’Jon “Scoota” Harris cut her performance short and changed the Razorbacks’ tune with a display of senior leadership that veteran defensive coordinator John “Chief” Chavis took note of.

Chavis said Monday we had a couple of players take control of the team in the fourth quarter and one in particular.

Morris said Harris drew the line in the sand, and his teammates responded on both sides of the football.

Arkansas’ defense help the Rams to less than 40 yards of offense in the final quarter, and linebacker Hayden Henry looped around the backside to make a tackle and strip the ball from runner Marvin Kinsey Jr. after senior defensive tackle McTelvin Agim’s rush made the runner cut back inside.

Freshman LaDarrius Bishop scooped up the fumble and scampered 25 yards for the touchdown to ice the victory.

Henry, who also broke up a third down pass in the first half with a hit that separated the ball from the receiver, received praise from Chavis, who said he’d take a player like Henry “every day and any day.”

While the Hogs’ defense has a lot to answer for in giving up two 70-plus yard touchdown plays in the game and 220 yards rushing to a Mountain West team, they slammed the door on the Rams when they really needed to.

The Razorbacks’ offense sprang back to life in the fourth quarter, too. After scoring 24 points in the first quarter, Arkansas’ offensive production slowed in the second and third frames. However, two fourth-quarter touchdowns gave Arkansas a much-needed cushion.

Senior tailback Devwah Whaley barreled in from the 5 for a touchdown to finish off a 6-play, 68-yard drive to take a 41-34 lead with 8:52 to play.

On the next drive, senior tight end C.J. O’Grady turned in the play of the game when he turned 20-yard reception from junior Nick Starkel into a phenomenal 62-yard touchdown that ESPN rated as the second-best play of the day.

With five Ram defenders surrounding him and attempting to strip the ball, O’Grady romped and stomped and twisted and turned until he broke free and then raced to the end zone with freshman receiver Treylon Burks shielding the final two defenders.

It was the play of O’Grady’s career, one that Razorback fans will remember fondly for years to come when they think of the tight end from Fayetteville. Just as importantly, it gave the Hogs some breathing room with a 48-34 lead with 5:32 to play.

On the Rams next possession, Henry and Bishop combined for the scoop and score as the final snowball in a Razorback avalanche.

It’s just one victory, and it was over Colorado State, but Arkansas’ win Saturday was one the Razorbacks can build upon. That’s something that we haven’t seen from Morris’ Hogs in the previous 14 games he and his staff have coached. It was good to see and was much appreciated by an irritated but still faithful fan base that have seen their Razorbacks suffer for too long.

I’d like to say that the program, the coaching staff, and the team turned a page with this victory, but that’s yet to be seen, but no doubt, it was a good sign.

With injuries piling up and with a relatively inexperienced group to start with, it’s hard to know how much the defense can improve the rest of the season, particularly against deeper, more talented SEC competition.

But, man, you do have to love the spirit they played with in the fourth quarter last Saturday!

That was a winning effort, and it’s the standard the defense needs to meet and attempt to exceed on a weekly basis. Credit the coaches and players for meshing so well.

Offensively, there was a night and day difference with Starkel at quarterback. He’s a decisive passer with a zip on the ball Hog fans haven’t experienced since Ryan Mallett set passing records for Arkansas under Bobby Petrino.

He’s just what Arkansas’ talented young receivers need. Burks, Mike Woods, and Trey Knox are going to have fun running down his passes, and making plays for the lanky quarterback who has confidence in his arm and a swagger to his step.

Starkel’s arm makes the Razorbacks more confident. Agim said that Starkel’s arm makes his teammates believe that the offense is going to keep scoring, which in turn allows them to play that much harder on defense.

It was an electric first start at Arkansas for the transfer from Texas A&M, who has another year of eligibility. It’s easy to get carried away over Starkel’s play, but it is exciting to hear Arkansas offensive coordinator Joe Craddock say that the coaching staff wants to push Starkel to be an elite quarterback.

When is the last time the word “elite” has even been mentioned when speaking of an Arkansas quarterback?

Starkel, who passed for 305 yards and 3 touchdowns on 20 of 35 passing, wasn’t perfect. He missed a couple of shots that could have made the victory less dramatic, but his ability to accurately push the ball down the field took pressure off his offensive line and opened up the run game by backing Colorado State’s safeties up.

Tailback Rakeem Boyd ran 20 times for a career-high 127 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Whaley averaged 9 yards a carry with 9 totes for 81 yards and a touchdown.

You’ve probably seen vide of the Razorbacks post-game celebration with Morris dancing to the delight of his players in what the head Hog called Club Dub (“W” as in a win). You can question whether an Arkansas should be celebrating what should be just another win, if you want, but at this point I’m just glad the coaching staff, players, and fans had something to celebrate among themselves in the locker room. Every victory is worth celebrating at this point in Morris’ rebuilding process.

Certainly, SEC play will bring challenges that this squad likely is not ready to face. Everything the Razorbacks did last Saturday will be much more difficult to accomplish in SEC play, but those are worries for another day.

As a fan, I’m hungry for another victory this week agains San Jose State, and looking forward to Morris and his Razorbacks dancing in Club Dub once again.