Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year twice.
Starkel stops QB spin cycle
Arkansas quarterback Nick Starkel throws a pass during a game against Colorado State on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Nick Starkel became the fifth player to start at quarterback for the University of Arkansas football team in the past 15 games.
Based on Starkel's play against Colorado State on Saturday, he might hang onto the job for a while.
Starkel, a junior graduate transfer from Texas A&M, completed 20 of 35 passes for 305 yards and 3 touchdowns without an interception to help Arkansas beat the Rams 55-34 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
It was Starkel's first start since Texas A&M's finale of the 2017 season in the Belk Bowl when he completed 42 of 63 passes for 499 yards and 4 touchdowns in Wake Forest's 55-52 victory over the Aggies.
Starkel won the Arkansas starting job -- after Ben Hicks started the first two games -- with his second-half performance at Ole Miss last week. The Rebels beat the Razorbacks 31-17, but Starkel completed 17 of 24 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown.
"It felt great to start," Starkel said. "Fun to be out for the first play. It means a lot, definitely helps my confidence."
Starkel pumped life into the offense after the Razorbacks combined to score 37 points in their first two games, including a 20-13 victory over Portland State, a Football Championship Subdivision team from the Big Sky Conference.
"When Nick gets going, he gets going," said Arkansas tight end Cheyenne O'Grady, who had 3 catches for 74 yards and 1 touchdown. "We saw that last game against Ole Miss. He was very consistent in what he did. He's very, very consistent in throwing the ball and getting the ball to the receivers and just airing it out. He has confidence, and that's what we need."
Along with Hicks -- a senior graduate transfer from SMU -- and Starkel this season, Arkansas' starting quarterbacks the past 15 games include Ty Storey, Cole Kelley and Connor Noland last season.
Storey transferred to Western Kentucky; Kelley transferred to Southeastern Louisiana; and Noland, who also was a starting pitcher for Arkansas' College World Series baseball team last year, quit football to focus on baseball.
Now the starting job looks to belong to Starkel.
"I thought Nick did a great job," Arkansas Coach Chad Morris said. "He had prepared himself very well.
"He missed a couple of deep balls that I know he wished he could have back. But the ball comes out of his hand extremely quick. He sees the field really well, and he's able to communicate with us on the sidelines. I thought his comfort level grew as the game went on."
Starkel's top two targets were freshman wide receivers Trey Knox (6 catches for 90 yards) and Treylon Burks (4 catches for 92 yards).
"I told them before the season the SEC doesn't care how old you are," Starkel said. "There's no age restriction in the SEC. It doesn't matter that they're freshmen.
"They can go out there and make plays like everybody else can. They go up and get the ball, and I like doing that. So, I like throwing to them."
Colorado State Coach Mike Bobo, who started at quarterback for Georgia and coached the position for 14 seasons with the Bulldogs, said he thought the Razorbacks were more aggressive throwing the ball with Starkel.
"You could tell that was the plan," Bobo said. "They were going to come out and throw the ball and go after our corners, and they did a good job.
"I thought [Starkel] threw a nice ball. I know he's going to look at film and he has some [passes] he wants back or he could have had even a better day. He had some guys wide open that he missed."
Arkansas running back Rakeem Boyd, who rushed for a career-high 122 yards on 20 carries, credited Starkel with helping the run game.
"I thought Nick passing the ball opened it up for me running the ball as well," Boyd said. "The offense was crisp today."
Arkansas' defensive players were excited about Starkel's play, too.
"He gave us a big spark," safety Kamren Curl said. "We like to watch him throw the ball down the field. That's what we like to see, taking them deep. Throwing 50-50 balls with Trey Knox and Treylon Burks coming down with them."
Linebacker De'Jon Harris said it was evident how the players on offense rallied around Starkel.
"I feel like when you get good quarterback play, everybody's running their routes harder because they understand the ball might be coming to them," Harris said. "He definitely gave the offense a spark. He definitely gave the defense a spark, as well."
Sports on 09/15/2019
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