RAZORBACKS REPORT: Ben Hicks, Nick Starkel remain top contenders, but starting QB still unknown

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Friday, August 23, 2019
Arkansas quarterback Ben Hicks looks to pass Friday, Aug. 2, 2019, during practice at the university practice field in Fayetteville. Visit nwad.com/photos to see more photographs from the practice.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas quarterback Ben Hicks looks to pass Friday, Aug. 2, 2019, during practice at the university practice field in Fayetteville. Visit nwad.com/photos to see more photographs from the practice.

FAYETTEVILLE -- University of Arkansas Coach Chad Morris and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock have given away no hints in the last few days as to who will start at quarterback against Portland State on Aug. 31.

Transfers Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel remain the top contenders, with redshirt freshman John Stephen Jones a potential, though unlikely, wild card.

Morris had media sessions Tuesday and Thursday, while Craddock spoke Wednesday. The latest update, via Morris, is that there is no decision.

"I'm not going to name one today," Morris said. "We're going to name one next week at some point."

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Media members in informal polling this week, were pretty split on the subject, with a little more than half of about a dozen reporters guessing Starkel will take the first snap of the season.

Craddock and Morris were both asked if a two-quarterback rotation could be in play for next Saturday's 3 p.m. season opener.

"We'll see," Craddock said. "Again, we'll talk to coach. I'll talk to him. It could be a possibility. We have seen enough of both of them now that we can make a decision and live with it. We'll see where the game goes next Saturday. We'll see. I don't know."

Said Morris on Thursday, "That I don't know at this point. I don't know. The game will dictate a lot of that."

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Morris said previously he'd rather not get into a back-and-forth situation as the Razorbacks did with Ty Storey and Cole Kelley through the first four games last year.

"You love the competitiveness," he said of the current battle. "Everybody wants to play. Everybody wants to start. But they can't.

"These guys are professionals so they understand. They understand that there is only one guy we're going to run out there. They also understand because they've been around the game of football long enough that when their opportunity does arise, they better be ready for it."

Tulsa series set

The University of Arkansas has reached an agreement with Tulsa to play a two-for-one series in football starting in 2026.

The Razorbacks also will host the Golden Hurricane in 2029, while Tulsa will entertain Arkansas on Sept. 4, 2027. The dates of the games at Reynolds Razorback Stadium are Nov. 21, 2026, and a season opener on Sept. 1, 2029.

The series, similar to the two-for-one setup the Hogs recently announced with Memphis, another regional Group of 5 program, was announced by the UA.

Arkansas extended its lead in the frequently played series with the Golden Hurricane to 56-14-3 with a 23-0 victory on homecoming last year. The Razorbacks have not played a road game at Tulsa since 1952.

Light day

The Arkansas Razorbacks scaled back for their 18th practice of camp on Thursday, conducting a light walk through in shorts and T-shirts, without helmets, inside Walker Pavilion.

The light day came after Wednesday's final scrimmage of camp, a roughly 80-play practice with partial live tackling and a smattering of key veterans very limited. It came prior to a higher-intensity workout scheduled for today as the Razorbacks prepare to roll into their first game week.

"This week was all about trying to transition them to what next week's start of school is going to look like," Coach Chad Morris said. "From afternoon practices to what a Thursday practice is going to look like.

"Tomorrow's practice will go about an hour and a half. It'll be amped up a little bit. There won't be a whole lot of full-fledged contact, but we'll have a little bit going on. It'll be more of game prep that we had going on today."

Personnel report

Offensive lineman Austin Capps (right knee) and wide receiver Koilan Jackson (right knee) both participated in the walk through. Capps plugged back in at first-team left guard, while Jackson went with the second offense.

Freshman receiver Trey Knox missed a fourth consecutive practice and offensive tackle Colton Jackson was not on hand as the coaches mix in rest with work days for the senior.

"Trey's been sick," Morris said. "We hope to get him back as soon as possible."

Pressed on what illness Knox has, Morris said, "He's just sick right now, so sooner than later. ... I don't anticipate him practicing tomorrow, but hopefully back out Saturday and being with us. But we'll see on that."

Top units

The top offensive line on Thursday consisted of left tackle Myron Cunningham, left guard Austin Capps, center Ty Clary, right guard Ricky Stromberg and right tackle Dalton Wagner, with Grayson Gunter at tight end. De'Vion Warren, Mike Woods and Treylon Burks ran with the first unit at wide receiver, with Ben Hicks at quarterback and Rakeem Boyd at tailback.

The second group featured linemen Brady Latham, Kirby Adcock, Shane Clenin, Beaux Limmer and Ryan Winkel, receivers Koilan Jackson, Tyson Morris and T.Q. Jackson, with Nick Starkel at quarterback, Chase Harrell at tight end, with Chase Hayden and Devwah Whaley at tailback.

Love to Deon

Offensive coordinator Joe Craddock said it hurt to have both senior Deon Stewart and junior Jordan Jones out of the wide receiver rotation at the same time.

"That's tough having those older guys out of the room," he said. "It really breaks my heart to see Deon go down because Deon has done everything we've asked him to do since we've been here.

"He's such a great kid and I love him to death, I really do. It sucks to see him go down and miss his senior year after he's had a great summer of leading the guys, kind of taking charge in that room."

With Stewart out for the year, Jones missing another couple of weeks with a high ankle sprain, sophomore Koilan Jackson out for a while and Trey Knox missing time due to an illness, younger players are taking many reps.

"It presents opportunities for other guys to step up," Craddock said. "The freshmen are going to have to step up quickly. Obviously we feel we recruited well and we feel like we've hit on a lot of guys and some of those guys have to play early."

OL buddies

Quarterback Nick Starkel knew whose names to learn first when he joined the Razorbacks in May.

"I'm bad with names so it took me a while to try and learn everybody's name," Starkel said. "But the first names I tried to learn was the O-line because they've got to have your back. So I was definitely learning all those guys' names and getting a connection with them so they can trust me and I can trust them."

Morris on TV

The weekly show Razorback Football with Chad Morris will begin its run on Sunday with a statewide and regional presence.

Morris and Chuck Barrett, the play-by-play voice of the Razorbacks, will give a season preview on the season debut. The show will air at 9:30 p.m. on KXNW in Northwest Arkansas and 10:30 p.m. on KATV in Little Rock and KFSM in Northwest Arkansas.

Regional network Fox Sports Southwest will re-air the show on Tuesdays at 4 p.m, and Cox Sports Television will have it on Tuesdays at 6 p.m.

Sports on 08/23/2019

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