Good news on its way: Either Tulsa, Arkansas will shake struggles

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Saturday, October 20, 2018
Arkansas quarterback Connor Noland laughs while talking with fellow freshman quarterback John Stephen Jones during a game against Ole Miss on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, in Little Rock.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas quarterback Connor Noland laughs while talking with fellow freshman quarterback John Stephen Jones during a game against Ole Miss on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, in Little Rock.

FAYETTEVILLE -- There's a long list of reasons today's 11 a.m. game against Tulsa looms large for the University of Arkansas.

It's homecoming. The Razorbacks are facing a Golden Hurricane program that gave Chad Morris his first collegiate job almost nine years ago.

Graduate transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant will be on hand along with dozens of other recruits to check out the Razorbacks and get the feel of game day on what weather forecasters are projecting to be a gorgeous fall afternoon.

Oh, and the Razorbacks are in dire need of a victory to snap a six-game losing streak.

In fact, Arkansas (1-6) cannot afford another loss and remain automatically eligible for a bowl berth. Tulsa (1-5) is in almost the same boat.

Neither team has won since its season opener. Both teams have had to deal with injuries to key players.

Arkansas quarterback Ty Storey has been ruled out for the game, meaning freshman Connor Noland and sophomore Cole Kelley are likely to split reps. Additionally, tailback Devwah Whaley will miss the first of several games after undergoing ankle surgery, and cornerback Ryan Pulley will sit out a segment of the game for his actions surrounding his ejection late in last week's 37-33 loss to Ole Miss.

"We've got a lot of similarities to the two seasons and what we're going through," Morris said. "They're better than their record."

Tulsa Coach Philip Montgomery called Arkansas a talented team that is trying to figure out its identity.

"They've got a ton of athletic guys running around," Montgomery said. "They're close, just like we are. It'll be a good contest."

Only one other game among FBS teams this weekend features teams with combined 2-11 records: Old Dominion (1-6) at Western Kentucky (1-5).

Arkansas has lost nine games in a row against FBS competition since outlasting Coastal Carolina 39-38 on Nov. 4. The Razorbacks haven't beaten a Power 5 team since a 38-37 victory over Ole Miss the week before.

They are beyond eager to come out on top.

"It's week after week, the same message. We're just all waiting for that break to come," offensive tackle Colton Jackson said.

"We have a lot to play for," tight end Cheyenne O'Grady said. "Of course, our record is not what we want it to be right now, but we can still do some good things this season."

The Arkansas defense had shown notable improvement, particularly against the run, before allowing more than 600 yards in back-to-back games against Alabama and Ole Miss.

Pulley's missed time will give redshirt freshman Montaric Brown a start with classmate Jarques McClellion at cornerback.

The losing streak and the recent defensive play don't have the unit down, safety Kamren Curl said.

"Our confidence is never going to be shaken," he said. "We know we go out every practice and every game like we're the best because we know we can play with the best."

The Razorbacks have won 18 consecutive games against Tulsa since their last loss in 1976. However, the past two victories have been by a touchdown or less -- 30-23 in 2008 and 19-15 in 2012 -- and the Golden Hurricane sense an opening today.

"Obviously when you have an opportunity to go over to Arkansas and have a chance to win, you want to make the most of that," Montgomery said. "I know our players are more hungry for a win, and I don't really care who it's against. We just need to get over the hump and get that part of it done."

The Golden Hurricane have not beaten a Power 5 opponent since a 31-17 victory over Iowa State in the 2012 Liberty Bowl to cap an 11-3 season.

"Unfortunately, ever since I've been here we've never been able to beat a Power 5 school, and that's ... always been an accomplishment or goal I want to reach when I'm here," Tulsa senior center Chandler Miller said. "I do think it means a little bit more. But I think we're more focused about just getting over the hump and getting a win no matter who the opponent is."

Tulsa safety Bryson Powers was asked about Arkansas' 1-6 record.

"I look at our record, too, and I know we're a heck of a lot better team than our record says," Powers said. "We don't really base it on the record as much. It's more of a film study.

"I've been looking over it a little bit, and they do look like a really good football team. They have good athletes, and they just maybe haven't had some things clicking like we haven't yet."

Both teams have seen fourth-quarter leads evaporate in more than one game. The Razorbacks slipped late and lost at Colorado State, and again last week after leading Ole Miss 27-10.

Tulsa held and then lost fourth-quarter leads at Houston, and again last week after leading No. 23 South Florida 24-10 midway through the fourth quarter.

"The difference between winning and losing is not very much," Morris said. "They've been in some games this year they should have won."

Montgomery had a chance to watch the Razorbacks' 37-33 loss to Ole Miss in its entirety because his team played at home on Friday night.

"You look at the game this past weekend with Ole Miss, the first half I thought they were really dominating the game and had opportunities throughout that game to really come out on top," Montgomery said. "They've got some legitimate weapons over there, and they're now finding out kind of how to use them and how best to put them in situations to make plays. I think they've got talent. I know they've got talent. It's just getting them all going in the right direction."

Morris is 1-2 as a head coach against Tulsa, with a 38-34 victory last year snapping a two-game skid against the Golden Hurricane.

He reflected on leaving the high school ranks in Texas to join Todd Graham's staff at Tulsa in 2010 this week.

"They were 5-7 before we got there," Morris said on his Wednesday radio show On the Air with Chad Morris. "To come in and beat Notre Dame on the road that year, won 10 games, finished in the top 25, it really kind of kick-started it at that point. There's always a special connection there."

Today’s game

TULSA AT ARKANSAS

WHEN 11 a.m.

WHERE Reynolds Razorback Stadium,

Fayetteville

RECORDS Tulsa 1-5; Arkansas 1-6

LINE Arkansas by 51/2

COACHES Philip Montgomery (19-25 in fourth season with Tulsa and overall); Chad Morris (1-6 in first season with Arkansas, 15-28 in fourth season overall)

SERIES Arkansas leads 54-15-3

TV SEC Network

RADIO Razorback Sports Network, including KABZ-FM, 103.7, in Little Rock; KQSM-FM, 92.1, KIGL-FM, 93.3, KAKSFM, 99.5, and KUOA-AM, 1290, in Fayetteville; KERX-FM, 95.3

Sports on 10/20/2018

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