Who's No. 1? Hogs' QB battle unsettled through 2 games

By: Matt Jones
Published: Monday, September 10, 2018
Arkansas quarterback Ty Storey looks to throw during a game against Colorado State on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in Fort Collins, Colo.
Photo by Charlie Kaijo
Arkansas quarterback Ty Storey looks to throw during a game against Colorado State on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in Fort Collins, Colo.

— Through two games of Arkansas’ quarterback battle, the pace of play has benefitted from Ty Storey leading the offense.

Storey averaged a snap every 22.3 seconds in eight drives during the opener against Eastern Illinois, while Cole Kelley averaged a snap every 27.8 seconds in four possessions. Storey led six scoring drives - four touchdowns and two field goals - and Kelley led two touchdown drives.

Against Colorado State, the pace difference was even greater. Storey took 49 snaps in 19:19 - an average of 23.6 seconds. Kelley took 26 snaps in 13:08 - an average of 30.3 seconds. Storey led three scoring drives - two field goals and one touchdown - and Kelley led two touchdown drives.

Both Arkansas coach Chad Morris and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock pointed toward various circumstances for the offense’s much slower pace with Kelley in Colorado. Most notably, the Razorbacks had a lead until Kelley’s final possession and were trying to melt time off the clock.

Kelley played the entire second half after Storey took every snap before halftime.

“Ty was doing a good job of pushing the tempo,” Craddock said. “And then in the second half, we felt like using some of our speed motion stuff, our fly-sweep stuff was good and it’s hard to tempo when you’re doing that. So I think that’s probably, if one guy is playing faster than the other, that’s probably more what it is.”

“I think for sure early in the game we’re playing faster,” Morris said. “Late in the game you’re burning clock, you’re running the ball effectively. So I think some of that is just dictated by the circumstances during the game, as opposed to the actual quarterback himself not getting up there and snapping it quicker.”

Pace of play is just one of several factors that will go into determining who will start, not only Saturday against North Texas, but as the season goes along. Both quarterbacks have started once this season, then were outplayed in the same game by the backup.

Storey was the nation’s second-most efficient passer after the opening game, but struggled mightily at Colorado State, completing 5 of 13 passes for 36 yards and throwing a pair of interceptions.

“I didn’t think Ty played great last week, but I didn’t think he played terrible,” Craddock said. “I thought he threw some good balls. Obviously I know he wants the third play of the game (an interception) back. We had (La’Michael) Pettway open and I know he wants that one back.”

Craddock said Storey threw the ball to the correct spot on the field - outside the right hashmark - but was late on the throw, which caused Pettway to slip and fall, creating an easy interception for Jordan Fogal.

On the second interception, Craddock said both teams had missed assignments - the Razorbacks a block along the offensive line; the Rams’ Emmanuel Jones, a defensive lineman, intercepted the pass because he was in the wrong place at the right time.

“He missed his assignment and happened to be in the middle of the field,” Craddock said. “So, just one of those things.”

Kelley had touchdown passes of 25 and 64 yards in his first two attempts after halftime - the longer pass was more of a handoff to T.J. Hammonds coming across the field on a jet sweep, but was ruled a pass because of the forward motion of the pitch - and finished 6 of 9 for 102 yards. Kelley also made a play with his feet, moving the chains on called quarterback run that gained three yards on third-and-2 in the third quarter.

But he also struggled on third downs. He was 1-for-3 on third-down passes, and was sacked on another third-down pass play. On the completion, he threw for six yards to Pettway, one yard shy of the down marker.

Craddock contended Monday that it appeared Pettway’s forward progress had been stopped past the line of gain on the play, which was the last snap of the third quarter. Morris then made an infamous decision to punt on fourth-and-1 to open the fourth quarter, setting up a 96-yard drive that pulled the Rams within three points.

"I felt at that time - and they were - that the (Arkansas) defense was playing well, and I thought the only way we could give (Colorado State) any momentum and get them back in this game was to give them a shorter field and get the crowd back in it,” Morris said. “So we chose to punt it. We did our job and got the ball down to the 4-yard line and that's what we wanted to do.”

More worrisome to Morris was that Arkansas took only eight offensive snaps that totaled 12 yards in the fourth quarter. One was the game’s final play - a multi-lateral pass that netted 10 yards.

Morris said he wants to find a quarterback that can lead the team in tough situations moving forward.

“Playing two quarterbacks is really not something I want to do, but it’s something right now, until we can get that guy who can get this team moving and getting us on schedule and creating the momentum and the spark it’s going to take, it’ll be a week-to-week process right now,” Morris said. "I hope to settle in and get a guy going.

“Our intent last week was to play both if the circumstance presented itself. I thought coming in to the second half we needed a spark. We came out and got the spark; we got what we needed. We jumped out quick, but we couldn’t…sustain the success.”

Morris said this year’s quarterback race reminds him some of the one he had as an offensive coordinator at Clemson in 2014. That season, Deshaun Watson supplanted Cole Stoudt as the starting quarterback after three games, but Stoudt regained the starting job when Watson broke his finger mid-season.

“We were still rotating quarterbacks all the way into conference play until we found the opportunity, the guy who was going to lead this football team. And he did,” Morris said of Watson. “You know, at some point that’s what we’re going to find and we’re going to run with it. If it’s this week, it’s this week. If it’s next week, it’s next week, but it’ll be at the right time.

“Playing quarterback, you know, there are so many intangibles that come with that sometimes are out of your control. Some of the circumstances dictate themselves, but we want to find the guy and let him settle in and go with it. So, that’s the intent and we’ll see when that happens.”

Neither Morris nor Craddock ruled out the potential of another one of Arkansas’ quarterbacks battling for the starting job, although Storey and Kelley are expected to split first-team snaps again this week in practice. Craddock said practices the past two weeks have been geared more toward getting those two quarterbacks ready, and the other quarterbacks have not gotten as many snaps in practice because of that.

Although Arkansas’ depth chart this week lists redshirt freshman Daulton Hyatt as the team’s No. 3 quarterback, Craddock indicated true freshman Connor Noland likely would be the next in line behind Storey and Kelley.

“From a third quarterback standpoint, I think you’d have to look at Connor if we got him in there at practice and he started doing some good things, but we’re going to continue to work in my group,” said Craddock, who is the quarterbacks coach. “I’m extremely proud of my guys all staying together. You could very easily have some arguing, bickering in my room with playing two guys and that’s not the case. When Ty ran out there for pregame warmups (at Colorado State), I heard Cole had his back, ‘Hey, let’s go 4. You got it, baby.’ That’s what makes this game great, is you have guys competing for the same job, but they also have each other’s back. So I’ve been really proud of my room and still am.

“We have to get better. My room has to get better and, like I said, we have to make sure we can convert on third-and-mediums and stay on the field and score in the red zone. That’s the main two ingredients that are missing right now that we have to get better at and whoever gives us the best opportunity to do that, obviously that’s who we’re going to go with, whether it’s Ty or Cole or whether it’s a freshman. We’re going to have to find out pretty quick because we have conference play starting next week.”

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