Noland becomes Arkansas' first true freshman starting QB in 12 years

By: Matt Jones
Published: Saturday, October 20, 2018
Arkansas quarterback Connor Noland is hit by Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins during a game Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Charlie Kaijo
Arkansas quarterback Connor Noland is hit by Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins during a game Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, in Fayetteville.

— Add Greenwood to the list of Arkansas towns that have produced freshman quarterbacks who won their debut as the Razorbacks' starter.

Connor Noland completed 10 of 16 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown, and was intercepted once during Arkansas' 23-0 win over Tulsa on Saturday. Noland, a standout for Greenwood High's Class 6A state champion team a year ago, became the first true freshman quarterback to start a game for the Razorbacks since 2006, when Mitch Mustain led Arkansas to a 20-0 win over Utah State in his debut.

Noland became the seventh true freshman quarterback to start a game for Arkansas since the NCAA allowed freshmen to play in 1972. Mustain, of Springdale, Barry Lunney Jr. of Fort Smith Southside, Brad Taylor of Danville and Houston Nutt of Little Rock Central all won their debuts. Casey Dick, who grew up in Texas, and Tom Rystrom, from Kansas, were freshmen to lose their first start.

Noland threw a 5-yard completion to running back Rakeem Boyd on his pass attempt, but was intercepted two plays later by Tulsa safety McKinley Whitfield, who undercut Arkansas receiver Jared Cornelius on third down.

Noland had a couple of overthrows on deep passes, but he was generally efficient in a scaled-back offense that focused more on the run. The Razorbacks ran the ball 53 times for 196 yards.

Backup quarterback Cole Kelley split playing time with Noland in the second half, predominantly for called quarterback runs. Noland led a scoring drive just before halftime that culminated with a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Grayson Gunter, the first touchdown pass of Noland's college career.

Noland got the start in place of Ty Storey, who was knocked out of last week's game against Ole Miss with an unspecified injury. Arkansas coach Chad Morris said Wednesday that Storey had been cleared to practice, but never went so far as to say Storey would start or play against Tulsa.

Storey has started five games this season - all losses - and has completed 81 of 142 passes for 983 yards, 7 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He was 12-for-16 for 122 yards and a touchdown prior to being knocked out early in the fourth quarter of the Ole Miss game.

Noland's college debut came during a game against North Texas on Sept. 15. With Arkansas trailing 37-10 in the third quarter, Noland replaced the starter, Kelley, to a loud ovation from what was left of the home crowd.

In four drives Noland was 4-for-7 for 25 yards and an interception, and rushed for 13 yards to convert a third-and-long. Playing behind a patchwork offensive line he was blitzed frequently by North Texas and was sacked five times.

Tulsa brought pressure against Noland on Saturday, but failed to sack him despite hurrying him twice. Noland rushed for 20 yards on five scrambles.

Noland was a high school standout at Greenwood, where he led the Bulldogs to a state championship win as a senior in 2017 after a runner-up finish the year before. He completed 238 of 348 passes for 2,801 yards, 34 touchdowns and 6 interceptions in 2017, and rushed for 239 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Noland also was an All-State pitcher for the Bulldogs and is committed to play baseball for Arkansas in the spring.

Noland's start Saturday was reminiscent to Mustain's first start 12 years ago. Mustain was named the starter after Arkansas' blowout loss to Southern Cal in the season opener and went 7-0 before losing the starting job to Casey Dick prior to a top 25 matchup with Tennessee in November.

Dick, who was injured to begin the 2006 season, started the final four games as a freshman in 2005 and led the team to a 2-2 record. Arkansas lost 14-10 to South Carolina in Dick's debut, but he threw three touchdowns the following week in a road win at Ole Miss.

Lunney, who is now Arkansas' tight ends coach, started six games and had a 2-3-1 record in his freshman season in 1992. In his first start the Razorbacks upset No. 4 Tennessee 25-24 on the road, handing the Volunteers their first loss of the season.

Taylor started four games as a freshman in 1981 and had a 3-1 record. Taylor led Arkansas to a 41-7 win at Rice in his first start, which came after regular starter Tom Jones was injured the week before. Taylor also had conference wins over Baylor and Texas A&M that season, and suffered his first loss as a starter against North Carolina in the Gator Bowl.

Nutt and Rystrom were two of four backup quarterbacks to start games in 1976 when starter Ron Calcagni was injured in the season opener.

Taylor, Lunney and Dick all became four-year starters under multiple head coaches.

Mustain transferred to Southern Cal following his freshman season, and Nutt transferred to Oklahoma State after his sophomore season following a coaching change. Rystrom never lettered after the 1976 season.

How Freshman QBs Fared in Their First Start

Oct. 20, 2018 - Connor Noland, Tulsa, 10-16, 124 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, Arkansas won 23-0

Sept. 9, 2006 - Mitch Mustain, Utah State, 9-17, 119 yards, 1 TD, Arkansas won 20-0

Nov. 5, 2005 - Casey Dick, South Carolina, 12-24, 137 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, Arkansas lost 14-10

Oct. 10, 1992 - Barry Lunney Jr., Tennessee, 13-19, 168 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, Arkansas won 25-24

Oct. 31, 1981 - Brad Taylor, Rice, 15-25, 197 yards, 1 TD, 20 rush, 90 yards, Arkansas won 41-7

Dec. 4, 1976 - Tom Rystrom, Texas, 6-13, 43 yards, Arkansas lost 29-12

Oct. 2, 1976 - Houston Nutt, TCU, 1-2, 7 yards, Arkansas won 46-14

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated five true freshmen had started as quarterback at Arkansas. It has been corrected to reflect seven freshman starters.

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