Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Experience, knowledge of offense earns Hicks starting job
Arkansas quarterback Ben Hicks rolls out to pass Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019, during practice in Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. Visit nwadg.com/photos to see more photographs from the day and the team's scrimmage.
FAYETTEVILLE — In the interview room for the only time this preseason on Aug. 20, Ben Hicks touted his experience, knowledge of Arkansas' offense and ability to put the ball in his playmakers' hands quickly.
Those attributes, according to Razorbacks coach Chad Morris and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock, provided him an edge over Texas A&M graduate transfer Nick Starkel and made him right for the starting quarterback job Week 1 against Portland State.
"Everything is earned in this program. Nothing is given, and Ben has earned the right to start," Morris said Monday. "The competition between Ben and Nick has been impressive to say the least over three weeks. Nick has done a great job and has picked up the offense in a few short weeks and has an incredible skill set. We’re excited to watch his continued growth and knowledge of this offense and the understanding of this offense in weeks to come.
"But we feel very confident in Ben and his compete overall knowledge, as you would expect," he continued. "Ben has been in this offense for three years. He's been here since January. I think Ben has an incredible command for everyone and where everyone should be."
Hicks being cognizant of where all players - including a number of freshmen who are expected to play Saturday - are supposed to be, getting the offensive line in the right protection and doing so at an appropriate pace factored into the coaches' decision as well.
His accuracy throughout camp stood out, too, coaches said. In three seasons at SMU, two under Morris, Hicks completed 56.7 percent of his passes, including a career-best 58.5 percent in 2017 when he also threw for 33 touchdowns against 12 interceptions.
"Ben is a competitor and understands where to go with the ball at the right time," Morris said. "Does the ball jump out of his hand like it does Nick? No, I think anybody can see that. I mean, watch them in the warmup. But, I don’t have to throw the ball and the ball jump out of my hand to be accurate.
"Accuracy is a big part of what we do, and while Nick is extremely accurate, Ben is too. I think a lot of that has to do with he understands where to go with the ball and how to get it there."
Craddock, a quarterback at Middle Tennessee State during his playing days, believes Hicks earned the respect of teammates the right way during spring practices by not coming in and attempting to establish himself as the guy from Day 1.
"When Ben got here, for the first couple months he kind of was quiet, didn’t say a whole lot, kind of sat back and really observed what was happening and who the leaders of the team were," Craddock said. "He’s matured a lot over the years. He’s matured a lot over the years and really learned how to be a leader."
Craddock labeled Hicks as immature when he first arrived at SMU, but he has been pleased with the quarterback's growth in years since. That growth has been evident even to outsiders that coaches have brought in during the offseason.
"Some of the Navy SEALs guys we brought in - I know I keep referencing these guys - they said they didn’t think of Ben as much of a leader (at SMU)," Craddock added. "After watching him here, they said, 'This kid has come a long way.'
"He’s just a fiery competitor. He hates to lose, he'll head-butt every offensive lineman at the very beginning of the game when we’re in warmups making sure that he’s checking all the oil, making sure they’re ready to go. Ben is a competitor, he’s not afraid to call someone out, tell them that we've got to pick it up, or go encourage."
Morris reiterated that the game will dictate whether or not more than one quarterback sees the field against the Vikings. But the offensive staff does want to continue building up Starkel's in-game experience. Starkel played in 11 games over the last two seasons with the Aggies, but has not seen the field since Sept. 22, 2018 against Alabama.
"We’ve got to get him ready. He’s got to play," Craddock said. "We shared that with Ben. He’s got to get some game experience, some game reps just in case. This is a long season in the SEC West. He’s got to be ready to go.
"We’ve got to give him some meaningful snaps that he’ll be able to grow some confidence in and be ready if the situation arises where he has to go in."
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