Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Resolve of Hogs pleases coaches
Head coach Chad Morris celebrate touchdown in 4th quarter against Colorado State during a football game, Saturday, September 14, 2019 at Donald W. Reynolds Stadium in Fayetteville, AR.
FAYETTEVILLE -- The University of Arkansas was a heavy favorite to dispatch Colorado State, and the Razorbacks did just that with a wipeout fourth quarter in their 55-34 victory Saturday.
Having to fight back through adversity late in the game should pay dividends down the line, second-year Coach Chad Morris and his coordinators said Monday as the Razorbacks (2-1) prepare for Saturday's 6:30 p.m. home game against San Jose State (1-1).
The Razorbacks are also an overwhelming favorite against the Spartans.
From an injury standpoint, the Razorbacks are expected to get defensive end Jamario Bell back from a knee injury he suffered in the opener. But freshman defensive end Zach Williams is out with a knee injury for a couple of weeks, Morris said Monday, while linebackers Bumper Pool (sprained clavicle) and Hayden Henry (shoulder) are questionable.
Arkansas showed mental and physical resolve to outlast the Rams, said Morris, who showed off some dance moves in the locker room in what the Razorbacks called "Club Dub [for W]" on Saturday.
Colorado State rallied from a 21-7 deficit to tie the game 34-34 late in the third quarter on a broken-play, 75-yard touchdown pass from reserve quarterback Patrick O'Brien to freshman speedster Dante Wright. At that point, Arkansas fans might have had thoughts of last year's meltdown during the fourth quarter of a 34-27 loss to the Rams in Fort Collins, Colo.
Senior linebacker De'Jon Harris rallied the defense together, and Nick Starkel and the offense generated back-to-back touchdown drives to get separation. Then Hayden Henry slammed the ball away from tailback Marvin Kinsey, cornerback LaDarrius Bishop scooped it for a 25-yard touchdown return, and the Razorbacks routed the Rams late.
"We had to overcome some adversity in that fourth quarter, and we had to go do it," Morris said. "We've talked about it, we've trained for it, we've prepared for it. But at some point, you have to go do it.
"To see that no one flinched, that we were aggressive offensively. Nick had been there before, and you saw the ball coming out of his hands. He knew what he wanted to do."
Both sides of the ball had a few more minutes of adversity before taking charge.
On the Hogs' first sequence at 34-34, Rakeem Boyd was stopped for no gain on a third-and-1 snap from the Arkansas 31. After a few seconds of pause, the offense headed to the sideline as scattered boos rang out from an announced crowd of 55,583 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Morris called timeout and sent his offense back out for a fourth-and-1 play to the delight of the crowd.
"Once I saw the offense come over and say, 'We want to go for it, coach,' I said, 'All right. The score's tied, fellas. If this is what we want, let's go do it,' " Morris said.
Freshman guard Ricky Stromberg rocked slightly in his stance just before Starkel took the snap and went over the right side to easily gain the first down. The Razorbacks had to punt away after the false start penalty.
The Arkansas defense allowed two more first downs as the Rams drove to the Hogs' 36. From there, Harris stopped Wright for a 1-yard gain at left end, then veterans McTelvin Agim and Kamren Curl halted Kinsey after a 3-yard gain.
O'Brien appeared to have space to run for a first down on third and 6, but freshman Mataio Soli forced a throw on the run that handcuffed Wright and fell incomplete. Cayden Camper missed a 50-yard field goal try wide left, giving Arkansas possession at its 32 with 11:35 left.
"We had a little offensive meeting before we came over to the stadium, and I told them, 'I want to be calling plays in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. Do you all want the ball in your hands when the game is on the line?' " offensive coordinator Joe Craddock said Monday.
Apparently Starkel and the offensive unit did. After an incomplete pass to Cheyenne O'Grady, Starkel hit Trey Knox on a timing route for 12 yards, found Treylon Burks over the middle for a 17-yard gain, then went back down the right sideline to Knox for 20 yards on the next three snaps to reach field goal range.
Five plays later, Devwah Whaley shot through a nice hole on the left side for a 5-yard touchdown run, and the Hogs were on their way.
"It was good to see us come over the hump and go win the game," Craddock said. "Last year in that game, we felt like offensively we played good up until the very end, but we didn't finish it. That was obviously a big talking point, coaching point throughout the week."
The Arkansas defense allowed 186 rushing yards and 10.3 yards per carry in the first half. That got cut to 34 rushing yards and 1.7 yards per carry with a couple of sacks thrown in during the second half.
Two 75-yard touchdown plays accounted for 150 of Colorado State's 420 yards.
"I promise I'm never gonna get used to giving up 400 yards," Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis said. "That isn't acceptable.
"We had two plays that accounted for about 160 yards, and that's totally unacceptable. Both those plays were easy plays we should have made. We didn't, and I take responsibility for that.
"The one thing I'm really excited about, there was a lot of things we did well."
Arkansas held Colorado State to 4 of 14 on third-down conversions (28.6%).
"We're over 72% getting off the field on third down, and that's good enough to win," Chavis said. "We had seven three-and-outs, so we did a good job getting off the field.
"There's some plays we've got to play better, and again that goes back to coaching. We're gonna get that corrected."
Sports on 09/17/2019
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