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.
How Arkansas and San Jose State compare at each position
Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback Nick Starkel (17) looks for a receiver during the second quarter of a football game, Saturday, September 14, 2019 at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Senior Josh Love (37-61-0, 413 yards, 3 TD) is expected to play after being injured in the fourth quarter vs. Tulsa. Love has no turnovers. Reserve Nick Nash (5-7-0, 44 yards) had a 20-yard TD run vs. Tulsa.
Nick Starkel (41-64-1, 554 yards, 4 TD) made a splashy starting debut last week against a solid, but not great, defense. His presence and downfield acumen elevated the unit as he went 20 of 35 for 305 yards and 3 TD. Honing in on his overthrown downfield shots is key. Ben Hicks (21-45-0, 241 yards) is a quality veteran reserve.
Top San Jose State RBs DeJon Packer (25-93, 1 TD) and Tyler Nevens (15-62, 1) are loads at 223 and 225 pounds, respectively. Their yards per carry are tame so far, however, at 3.7 and 4.1, respectively. The top rusher is reserve QB Nick Nash (13-115, 1, 8.8 ypc).
Rakeem Boyd (55-303, 3 TD) has run for 100-plus yards in 2 of 3 games. He’s averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Devwah Whaley (20-104, 2 TD, 5.2 ypc) is coming off his best game of the year (9-81, 1). Chase Hayden (12-39, 3.2 ypc) looked good in limited action last week.
Seven Spartans have four or more catches, led by 5-11 freshman Isaia Hamilton (8-109) and 6-1 senior Billy Gaither (7-74). Freshman Jermaine Braddock (5-66) has 2 TD catches, and backup TE Derrick Deese (4-47) has the other. The top TE is Billy Humphreys (5-67). JaQuan Blackwell (4-40) contributes. Hamilton’s modest 13.6 ypc is tops on the team.
Trey Knox (13-216, 1 TD) and Mike Woods (13-124) are tied for the team receptions lead, while TE C.J. O’Grady (6-119, 1) and Treylon Burks (9-172) lead the way with 19.8 and 19.1 yards per catch, respectively. Tyson Morris (3-32), TE Grayson Gunter (3-16), TE Chase Harrell (2-28, 1), Koilan Jackson (2-19, 1) and De’Vion Warren (2-5) contribute.
The Spartans are led by a pair of seniors on the left side in LT Jackson Snyder and LG Troy Kowalski, and grad transfer RT Quinn Oseland, a 6-6, 305-pounder. Junior C Kyle Hoppe and Sophomore RG Tyler Stevens are the other projected starters. The unit averages 6-4, 297 pounds. San Jose State is allowing one sack per game.
The Razorbacks are coming off their best game in a long time, led by junior C Ty Clary, who made the Pro Football Focus national team of the week. LT Colton Jackson and LG Austin Capps are settling in after being slowed by camp injuries. RG Ricky Stromberg has impressed while battling through mistakes beside RT Dalton Wagner. Myron Cunningham is the top backup.
The Spartans list a three-man front, but frequently line up a fourth. NT Sailosi Latu (10, 1 TFL) will be a 334-pound load for Hogs’ C Ty Clary. The top ends are Viliami Fehoko (9, 1 TFL), E.J. Ane (5), Cade Hall (4, 1 TFL) and Christian Johnson (4, 1 TFL). Backup NT Demanuel Talauati (2, 1 TFL) has the lone sack from the front.
End Gabe Richardson (12, 3.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks) and tackle T.J. Smith (5, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 hurries) had sacks last week. Tackle McTelvin Agim (11, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 hurries, 1 FF) had a quiet game last week. Mataio Soli (5, 2 hurries) or Jamario Bell (1, 1 hurry), who is returning from a knee injury, will start at end. The top subs are Isaiah Nichols (7, 0.5 TFL) and Jonathan Marshall (5, 1 TFL, 2 hurries).
The Spartans like heavy running backs, as each starter weighs 222 pounds or more. Ethan Aguayo (34, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 hurry) leads the nation with 17 tackles per game. Tysyn Parker (12, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack), Jesse Osuna (12, 2, 1) and Rico Tolefree (8) are the other projected starters. Hadari Darden (8), Kyle Harmon (6) and Isa’ako Togia (2) are the top reserves.
De’Jon Harris (21, 1 TFL, 1 hurry) had 12 tackles last week. Grant Morgan (13, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack) has graded well. If Bumper Pool (19, 1 TFL, 1 PBU) and Hayden Henry (12, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU) are out or limited, it will mean more time for D’Vone McClure (10, 1 PBU, 1 hurry), Deon Edwards (1) and redshirt freshman Andrew Parker.
The defensive backfield is thin. Cornerback Zamore Zigler (10, 1 TFL) has been solid in run support, while fellow CBs Brandon Ezell (6, 2 PBU) and Nehemi Shelton (8, 1 INT, 2 PBU) have higher passes defended stats. FS Jay Lenard (16, 1 TFL) is a very active 6-1, 209-pounder. SS Tre Webb (6) is the other starter, and Bobby Brown (3, 1 INT) is a top safety reserve.
FS Kamren Curl (22, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR) took over the team tackle lead last week. SS Joe Foucha (14, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FR) has been solid and has gotten an array of pressure calls. CBs Jarques McClellion (7, 1 INT) and Montaric Brown (7, 2 PBU, 1 FR) are supplemented by LaDarrius Bishop (1 PBU, 1 FR).
The Spartans are 89th in punting. Senior Alex Galland has put 6 of 8 punts inside the 20. He averages 40.2 yards per punt to rank 63rd. Field goal man Matt Mercurio is 1 for 2 on FGAs, making one from 22 yards and missing from 42, and is 6 of 6 on PAT. Brandon Ezell’s only punt return went for 25 yards. The Spartans are 58th with a 21.3-yard kickoff return average.
Arkansas’ kicking game improvements from 2018 are evident. PK Connor Limpert (5 of 6 FGs, 11-11 PATs) is the reigning SEC special teams POW. KOR De’Vion Warren (24.8) has just 5 returns as opponents have sky kicked short. PR Treylon Burks (7.4) almost has broken a couple. Sam Loy’s 38-yard average is hurt by some short pooch punts. Arkansas is 119th in net punting (33.9).
San Jose State has the benefit of two weeks to prepare for this game thanks to an early open date. However, there’s nothing the Spartans could do to simulate the humidity they’ll face in this game, which probably won’t be of the full-scale variety. The Spartans will have to execute on a very high plane to have a shot at the upset.
How do the Razorbacks respond to the first big dose of momentum they’ve had in more than a year? If the execution can become more crisp in the second week with Nick Starkel as the starting QB, the Hogs can make big advances. The celebrated signing class on defense should get an opportunity today with injuries on all three levels, but particularly at linebacker and end.
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