HOGS vs Colorado State preview
FAYETTEVILLE - The Arkansas Razorbacks thought they would be better than last season, but their 1-1 start indicates otherwise.
The also 1-1 Colorado State Rams thought they would be improved in 2019, and they are, Arkansas head coach Chad Morris (in Crant Osborne photo) said.
Arkansas of the SEC and Coach Mike Bobo’s Rams of the Mountain West clash at 3 p.m. Saturday in a non-conference game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The SEC Network will televise the game.
Bobo, the former Georgia quarterback (1993-97), become UGA's offensive coordinator coach during his 2001-2014 coaching tenure in Athens before head coaching Colorado State since 2015. Bobo suffered his first losing season in Fort Collins, Colo., last year, going 3-9 and losing to lower division Illinois State. Bobo’s Rams rallied from down 27-9 last fall to overcome Arkansas 34-27 in Fort Collins.
Off their 1-1 start, these Rams appear on the upswing. CSU lost a wild 52-31 opener two weeks ago to Colorado, which last week upset then nationally ranked Nebraska. Last Saturday CSU routed Western Illinois 38-13. CSU ranks No. 7 nationally in passing yards (385 yards per game) and No. 29 in third-down conversions.
“We’ve got a very much improved Colorado State team from a year ago coming in,” 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. 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,” 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, CSU quarterback Collin Hill, coming off an injury that plagued him throughout 2018 when he threw three passes off the bench against Arkansas. Hill “is an NFL quarterback and should have been (but for the injury) the starter last year,” Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis said.
Hill (6-4, 227), a fourth-year junior, has completed 56 of 79 passes this fall for 741 yards for seven touchdowns with 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,” Morris said. As a receiver, Wright has 11 catches for 183 yards and two TDs, four (reverse) carries for 92 yards and two TDs plus a punt returner. Both are big time, Chavis said.
For the ground game, the Rams average 4.8 yards per carry.
The loss at CSU two games into Morris’ first Arkansas season foretold Arkansas’s 2-10 future in 2018. The letdown led directly to a 44-17 loss to North Texas in Fayetteville.
“I thought we learned a lot last year after that Colorado State game,” Morris said, claiming his current Hogs have "an entirely different attitude.”
It needs to be. Because outside their locker room, confidence does not flow with the Raorbacks, who defeated lower division Portland State 20-13 and lost last week in their SEC opener at Ole Miss 31-17. Arkansas ranks No. 107 nationally and next to last (hello Vanderbilt) in the SEC in scoring offense (18.5 ppg), but Colorado State ranks No. 107 in scoring defense (32.5 ppg).
Last year’s Hogs led Ole Miss and came close before losing 37-33 in Little Rock.
Arkansas never led last week in Oxford, but in the second half replaced talent for experience at quarterback. 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 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 of the second half at Ole Miss. “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 was not perfect in alignments and thoroughly knowing Morris’ offense, but Arkansas’ coaches and players said the junior provided “a spark.”
"A spark” means hope for a team still trying to ignite.