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.
Starkel: Saying no to Bieber
Nick Starkel, Arkansas quarterback, warms up wearing a Justin Bieber shirt before the game vs San Jose State Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- University of Arkansas quarterback Nick Starkel took Saturday's upset loss to San Jose State hard, but he's vowing to respond.
Starkel, who wears Justin Bieber T-shirts during warmups, took to his Twitter account Sunday morning to make some announcements.
"Bieber shirt has been ripped in half and thrown away," Starkel wrote. "No more nonsense. No more distractions. All I'm focusing on is this team and this season. Nothing else."
Starkel passed for a hefty 356 yards on 28 of 50 completions and threw 3 touchdown passes in the Razorbacks' 31-24 setback against San Jose State. But he also threw a career-high five interceptions.
Arkansas had the ball in San Jose State territory on nine of its 14 possessions, but lost five series on interceptions in Spartans territory and were stopped on fourth-down runs on two other possessions.
Starkel was choking up during his postgame remarks and talked about how he let his teammates, coaches and family down with his performance.
Later, he reiterated those statements on Twitter, writing, "I let my brothers, my family, my coaches, my University and the whole state of Arkansas down... I promise that we will respond."
San Jose State quarterback Josh Love has had an up-and-down career with the Spartans but he left Fayetteville with his arrows pointing up after a huge showing against the Hogs.
Love, who has been benched and injured during his career, showed pinpoint accuracy by going 3 for 3 for 54 yards on the Spartans' final drive, capped by DeJon Packer's 19-yard touchdown run.
Love, who finished 32 of 49 for 402 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception for an efficiency rating of 143.6, said he read Arkansas' safeties.
"They like to move a little bit with their safeties and I just keyed on them," he said. "They kind of tip off what they're doing. I just trusted it. There were a couple of times that I misread, but I just continued to trust it."
We heard you
San Jose State players were aware of comments from linebacker Grant Morgan earlier in the week about wanting to hold the Spartans to zero rushing yards while scoring 70 or more points.
Spartans Coach Brent Brennan pointed them out to his team.
"When you come to an SEC school, and no one believes in you, and one of their linebackers says you're going to run for zero yards against us, and you come here and run the ball for over 100 and upset them in their place, it means a lot," San Jose State offensive lineman Troy Kowalski said. "And I just caught myself crying a little bit because it meant so much to me."
The Razorbacks were stopped twice on fourth-and-short plays to halt drives in San Jose State territory, including Arkansas' second possession of the game.
Two Spartans combined to stop Devwah Whaley on a fourth-and-2 run up the middle from the San Jose State 4-yard line midway through the first quarter.
On a fourth and 1 in the second quarter, with San Jose State ahead 14-7, 334-pound nose tackle Saliosi Latu was credited with halting Nick Starkel on a quarterback sneak at the Spartans 23.
"I was very disappointed in our lack of short-yardage conversions that stalled drives," Coach Chad Morris said. "That was a gut check is what it was.
"Regardless if we're running the football or not, we've got to be able to knock the pile back, and keep drives going. Because we go for it on fourth down, which that's who we are. We're going to be aggressive. We've got to be able to get it, and we didn't get it. Credit those guys."
Arkansas fell to 4-3 against non-Power 5 opponents under second-year Coach Chad Morris.
The Razorbacks have beaten Eastern Illinois (55-20) and Portland State (20-13) of the Football Championship Subdivision under Morris, as well as Group of 5 members Tulsa (23-0) and Colorado State (55-34).
Arkansas lost to Colorado State (34-27) and North Texas (44-17) last season before falling in their first-ever meeting to San Jose State.
Lack of rush
The Razorbacks struggled to impact quarterback Josh Love, who was 32-of-49 passing for 402 yards and 2 touchdowns, with 1 interception.
Jamario Bell logged the Hogs' lone sack, a 9-yard loss on a twist up the middle in the third quarter. The Razorbacks were credited with five quarterback hurries and posted three tackles for 14 yards in losses.
"I thought our O-line was outstanding tonight," San Jose State Coach Brent Brennan said. "They kept Josh clean and he was able to deliver the ball with good accuracy."
Arkansas Coach Chad Morris lamented the Hogs' inability to disrupt Love.
"The Love kid had a career night," Morris said. "I didn't think we could get any pressure on the quarterback, number one. I thought the guy had a chance to sit back there and eat a sandwich and pick us apart underneath.
"That was it. We didn't get much pressure on him. And when we did, he was throwing the ball up, and he got a couple of [pass interference] calls."
The Razorbacks will re-enter SEC play versus Texas A&M on Saturday at 11 a.m. ranked 54th in total offense with 440.8 yards per game and 82nd in total defense with 410.3 yards allowed per game. Arkansas is 30th in passing (288.0 yards per game), 79th in rushing (152.8), 74th in scoring (29.0) and 91st in passing efficiency.
The Razorbacks are 93rd in passing yards allowed (252.0), 77nd against the run (158.3), 79th in scoring defense (27.3) and 72nd in pass efficiency defense.
Among the Hogs' worst numbers is a tie for 115th in red zone offense (68.8%), a tie for 106th in red zone defense (90%) and 116th in net punting (35.06). Among their best: a tie for 25th in first downs (93), a tie for 45th in third-down defense (33.3%).
Arkansas, which had been plus-4 in total turnover margin through three games, fell to 59th at even in turnover margin after losing that category 5-1 vs. San Jose State.
Players of the week
WR Mike Woods
The sophomore from Magnolia, Texas, posted his first career 100-yard game with four catches for 115 yards. Woods caught a 62-yard deep-ball touchdown in the first quarter.
FS Kamren Curl
Curl, a junior from San Diego via Muskogee, Okla., posted 3 solo tackles and 2 assists for 5 total tackles. He also intercepted a pass in the first quarter and had a pass breakup.
Sports on 09/23/2019
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