Noland, Hogs skunk Tulsa 23-0
FAYETTEVILLE - Busted the past two weeks by superb SEC quarterbacks, Arkansas took down Tulsa QB Seth Boomer on Saturday while debuting true freshman QB Connor Noland as a victorious starter.
Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Ole Miss’ Jordan Ta’amu had quarterbacked 65-31 and 37-33 victories over Arkansas with 639 and 611 yards total offense, but the Razorbacks busted Boomer and Tulsa 23-0 before 40,000 Saturday for homecoming at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Noland, a Greenwood native, started in place of junior Ty Storey (concussion protocol) injured last week against Ole Miss. Noland shrugged off a first possession interception to complete 10 of 16 for 124 yards with a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Grayson Gunter.
The Razorbacks otherwise relied on their running game, defense and special teams to still the Hurricane.
Arkansas’ defensive effort marked the first shutout and the second victory for first-year coach Chad Morris, breaking a six-game skid after opening with a win over lower-division Eastern Illinois. The most recent consecutive shutouts came in 2014 over LSU and Ole Miss.
“A shutout is always great,” Morris said. “It’s really good when you can see it on those defensive kids' faces because that’s something you work really hard for. It’s hard to shut anybody out. It really is. I’m just proud for our players and our coaching staff. That’s really impressive to me.”
It marked Arkansas’ first victory over a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent since former coach Bret Bielema’s 4-8 Razorbacks beat Ole Miss for their lone SEC success in 2017.
Arkansas (0-4 in the SEC) tries to crack the 2018 SEC win column at 11 next Saturday when they host Vanderbilt at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Coach Philip Montgomery’s Golden Hurricane of the American Athletic Conference, fall to 1-6. They battled No. 21 South Florida to the wire last week before falling 25-24.
Arkansas sacked Boomer six times Saturday, two by defensive end/tackle Sosa Agim, including the shutout preserving minus 7-yard sack on Tulsa’s last fourth-and-7 play from the Arkansas 11.
Boomer completed eight of 25 for 127 yards and was intercepted once by cornerback Ryan Pulley in the second quarter.
Arkansas senior defensive tackle Armon Watts, voted Arkansas’ outstanding senior in the homecoming game with four tackles and a sack, caused the fumble that senior defensive end Randy Ramsey recovered for the defense’s other turnover.
“It was big,” Watts said of the shutout. “It was definitely momentum for our defense and the next week is SEC. We’ve got to carry this with us and keep it up.”
Tulsa’s best chances to score early failed when place-kicker Nate Walker’s missed field goal tries from 28 and 42 yards.
The attempt was set up by Tulsa safety McKinley Whitfield picking off Noland’s second pass attempt of the opening possession and returning it 18 yards to the Arkansas 23. The defense forced Montgomery to settle for a field goal try on fourth and 11 from the 12.
Walker missed wide right again from 42 yards after Tulsa drove from its 15 to the Arkansas 25 before stalling on successive Boomer incompletions.
While Walker couldn’t kick, Arkansas’ Connor Limpert could. Limpert kicked three of three field goals, a 33-yarder for a 3-0 lead at 14:14 of the second quarter, and a 35-yarder in the third quarter and a 24-yarder in the fourth quarter.
Arkansas tailback Rakeem Boyd, 22 carries for 99 net yards before exiting because of cramps, did most of the work to set up Limpert’s first field goal, but Noland whipped a 15-yard pass down the middle to tight end Cheyenne O’Grady.
That series-opening interception “didn’t faze Connor one bit,” Morris said and senior left guard Hjalte Froholdt concurred.
“I’m very proud of his fight, considering after the first drive he had an interception,” Morris said. “To lead the Razorbacks to a win, he’s probably dreamed of this moment his entire life then to have that happen shows you the competitor he is.”
Froholdt marveled at the rookie’s poise.
“He never froze up or gave you the deer in the headlights and didn't say anything,” Froholdt said. “He was like, 'I threw a pick. Next play.' His mood was still up. It was awesome to see that from a freshman like him.”
“There’s going to be mistakes and all that stuff,” Noland said. “So, I’ve had a lot of experience with going on to the next play. That was kind of my mindset. Coach came up to me and patted me on the back and said ‘Go get them next play and just focus on it.'”
Arkansas’ second quarter TD drive took some bizarre turns. On second-and-6 from the Tulsa 15, Noland recovered a minus-12 yard wayward shotgun snap before defensive end Trevis Gipson dove into him.
Gipson was charged with targeting, a dicey call from the press box that was indeed overturned on review. However on the Tulsa sideline, receiver JuanCarlos Santana protested the initial and was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to give Arkansas a first down at the Tulsa 13.
Noland caught Tulsa in a blitz for his 7-yard TD to wide open tight end Gunter for the 10-0 lead 1:25 before half.
The teams exchanged fumble recoveries with Ramsey’s recovery starting Arkansas at its 27 and ending with Limpert’s second field goal.
Noland ran 10 for a first down and took a hard lick.
Backup QB Cole Kelley replaced him for awhile and just missed achieving, according to review, a TD pass to tight end O’Grady did not secure. Limpert kicked the 35-yard field goal on fourth-and-13.
Noland and receiver La’Michael Pettway connected for a 30-yard pass on Arkansas next possession, starting from the Tulsa 40 after Arkansas’ defense forced Tulsa to punt from its 2. Big running back Maleek Williams rushed for the 4-yard TD.
Noland wasn’t Arkansas lone emergency starter.
Fourth-year junior left tackle Colton Jackson of Conway, playing since the season’s third game after undergoing July back surgery, suffered pregame back spasms and couldn’t dress out.
Redshirt freshman Dalton Wagner replaced him. “Dalton didn’t really know until game time,” Froholdt said. “He did a phenomenal job.”