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.
Hogs made sure lead stuck at end
Arkansas Razorbacks defensive back LaDarrius Bishop (24) carries the ball for a pick-six after a fumble recovery during the fourth quarter of a football game, Saturday, September 14, 2019 at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- The University of Arkansas football team had a bad habit of blowing big leads during the previous seven seasons.
From 2012 through 2018, the Razorbacks lost 15 games in which they led by 10 or more points, including last season at Colorado State and to Ole Miss in Little Rock.
"At some point we've got to break this cycle," Chad Morris said last season in his debut as Arkansas' coach. "There's going to be a moment that we're going to break it."
That moment came Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Arkansas (2-1) pulled away to beat Colorado State 55-34 after the Rams overcame a 14-point deficit to tie the game 34-34 with 2:26 to play in the third quarter.
Instead of succumbing to another opponent's comeback, the Razorbacks regrouped.
Arkansas' defense got stops on Colorado State's final four possessions, including a scoop-and-score touchdown return for 25 yards by cornerback Ladarrius Bishop on a fumble forced by linebacker Hayden Henry.
Before the defensive score, the Razorbacks' offense responded with two touchdowns to provide some cushion with a 48-34 lead.
Devwah Whaley capped a 68-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run, and tight end Cheyenne O'Grady refused to go down and turned what looked to be about a 20-yard gain on a pass from Nick Starkel into a 62-yard touchdown play as he broke away from five defenders.
"I thought this was going to be a huge week for this program and this team this year of how we dealt with adversity," Morris said of Arkansas coming off a 31-17 loss at Ole Miss. "I thought we did a good job of that. I'm proud of the way the guys responded."
Senior defensive tackle McTelvin Agim recalled his freshman season in 2016, which ended with a 28-24 loss at Missouri and a 35-24 loss to Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl when the Razorbacks couldn't hold halftime leads of 24-7 and 24-0.
"What I would say is different [now] is we can keep scoring," Agim said. "I feel like Nick showed that."
Starkel, a junior graduate transfer from Texas A&M, passed for 305 yards and 3 touchdowns in his first start as a Razorback.
"My freshman year we couldn't score with people," Agim said. 'It wasn't hard to see. Now, I feel like we can score with people."
Junior safety Kamren Curl said the Razorbacks weren't going to back down when they were challenged late in the game by Colorado State.
"We've all just bought in," Curl said. "We've got more confidence now, because we're more of a team this year."
O'Grady said the team's togetherness is evident on the sideline.
"I see offensive players going over to talk to defense, and I see defensive players going over to offense," he said. "It's just everybody coming together.
"That's what this team needs. That's what led us to a victory."
Last season when Colorado State beat Arkansas 34-27 after trailing 27-9, the Razorbacks lost at home to North Texas 44-17 the next week to set the tone for what became the first 10-loss season in school history.
After Ole Miss beat Arkansas, Morris stressed to the players they couldn't allow that disappointment to snowball on them as happened with the loss at Colorado State last season.
"We just weren't going to let the Ole Miss game determine our season," Razorbacks senior linebacker De'Jon Harris said. "It's been like that since I've been here. The first loss of the season always determines our whole season.
"We put that game behind us and kept it simple. We had a couple miscues, but we came out here and executed the game plan."
Arkansas plays San Jose State (1-1) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The Spartans are coming off an open date after they beat Northern Colorado 35-18 and lost to Tulsa 34-16 in their first two games.
Morris cautioned the victory over Colorado State was just one game, but significant as well.
"I thought that was huge for the culture of this football team and what we've talked about," Morris said. "Because it took great mental and physical toughness to finish.
"We've got to continue to put games together. I'm proud of this team, but we've got a lot of work to do moving forward."
Sports on 09/16/2019
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