Arkansas vs. Western Kentucky
FAYETTEVILLE – Had Ty Storey been allowed to play against defenses of this Arkansas type, he not only still would be Arkansas’ quarterback but Arkansas’ All-American quarterback. The former 4-year Razorback and formerly 4-star prospect from Charleston moved on as a graduate transfer to Western Kentucky after starting nine games for coach Chad Morris’ last year’s 2-10 Razorbacks and Morris postseason recruiting two graduate transfer quarterbacks, returned Saturday to Reynolds Razorback Stadium and embarrassed his old team 45-19.
Storey and the visiting 1-point underdog Hilltoppers of Conference USA, now a bowl eligible, 6-4, had it won, 35-7 at half sending Morris’ reeling Razorbacks of the mighty SEC to a seventh straight loss and 2-8 record.
The Razorbacks, with their coach fielding postgame questions regarding his Arkansas future, have an open date weekend before finishing with SEC games Nov. 23 at LSU and Nov. 29 in Little Rock against Missouri.
Saturday Morris’ Arkansas future was haunted by Arkansas past.
In just Saturday’s first-half alone, Storey quarterbacked five touchdown drives on all five first-half possessions with WKU amassing 317 first-half yards total offense. Storey completed 19 of 28 first-half passes for 202 yards and a touchdown, ran 11 times fro 45 yards and two touchdowns and directed the Hilltoppers to succeeding 5 of 5 times going for it on fourth down and 6 of 10 times on third down.
For the game Storey completed 22 of 32 without a turnover or sack for 213 yards and rushed 17 times for 77 yards while controlling the clock 36:57 to Arkansas’ 23:03 as the Hilltoppers amassed 478 yards total offense.
Morris, who did praise Storey during their year together and since, certainly praised him Saturday both to the press and to his face. “He did a great job,” Morris said. “Obviously, his performance today was on par. I had a chance to talk to him right after the game and told him I was proud of him. He’s a great kid and loves the state of Arkansas.”
Storey indeed said nothing but good things about his old teammates and coaches even as he routed the Razorbacks Saturday sending the Hilltoppers home happy back to their Bowling Green, Kentucky home.
“I hope the best for them,” Storey said. “I hope they win out and do what they can. I still have great relationships with the (Arkansas) players I played with and the coaches that coached me. But right now, I have too much to focus on at Bowling Green. Obviously, the game went about as good as we could have asked. So we’re pretty pumped right now.”
WKU Coach Ty Helton marveled at Storey’s storybook homecoming. “I tell you what, you couldn’t write it any better,” Helton said. “It was a heck of a story. He wanted this one really bad and I thought he handled everything to perfection. I can’t really think of anything he did wrong.”
Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel, the graduate transfer quarterbacks that Morris brought in from SMU and Texas A&M, but benched since the second half of the previous Saturday’s 54-24 SEC loss to Mississippi State here following 51-10 and 48-7 SEC losses to Auburn and Alabama, sat Saturday while redshirt freshman John Stephen Jones and true freshman KJ Jefferson quarterbacked Arkansas.
Jones and Jefferson both impressed with scoring drives mopping up the second half against Mississippi State but found it tougher sledding with the Hilltoppers prepped for them.
Jones, the starter, completed 3 of 10 for 27 yards and threw a hard-luck interception on the game’s first series.
Jefferson, returning after injuring his shoulder late in the first half, scored Arkansas’ final touchdown on a 2-yard run with 4:44 left in the game but of his 6 for 15 passes threw a pick-six that safety Devon Key returned for the Hilltoppers’ final touchdown with 8:20 left in the game. Jefferson did throw what would have been a 26-yard touchdown to Burks but it was nullified on offensive tackle Myron Cunningham’s holding penalty. He also had Burks open for another would-be touchdown but threw it a mite too far with Burks catching it beyond inbounds.
Arkansas tight end Grayson Gunter, the intended receiver on the game’s first series, slipped as Jones delivered leaving WKU safety Antwon Kincade to intercept and return it to the Arkansas 42.
WKU receiver Jahcour Pearson, shrugging off dropping two consecutive Storey passes, worked the first Storey fourth down magic with a 5-yard catch on fourth and four to the Arkansas 31.
Storey ran for five on fourth and three then dealt a reverse to receiver Jacquez Sloan for a 19-yard touchdown run. Arkansas fought back for its only tie. Jones hit an 11-yard pass to receiver Treylon Burks then read a hole in the WKU middle dealing to running back Rakeem Boyd. Boyd took it for a 76-yard touchdown and the 7-7 tie.When Boyd, now a 1,000-yard rusher with Saturday’s 8 carries for 185 pushing his season total to 1005, scored again with an 86-yard touchdown run with 12:21left in the game, the Hogs lagged, 38-13.
WKU blocked Connor Limpert’s second PAT. Jefferson tried a 2-point pass that failed after he scored finishing Arkansas’ 9-play, 70-yard drive with the game completely in the Hilltoppers hands. Jefferson did complete what would have been a Boyd logging only eight carries seems mystifying until ascertaining that the Hilltoppers built their 35-7 halftime lead controlling the ball 20:59 of the first 30 minutes.
“Early on in the first half when they got all their points we just couldn’t get off the field on third or fourth down,” Arkansas junior safety Kamren Curl said. “When you can’t get them off the field and third or fourth down that’s going to happen.”
Sophomore linebacker Bumper Pool concurred.“We started way, way too slow,” Pool said. “We have a lot of youth including myself and we’re making too many mistakes and aren’t sound. When you aren’t sound they’re gonna run the ball (WKU netted 253 yards rushing led by running back Gaej Walker’s 129 on 23 carries) That’s something we’ve got to work on. That’s as a defense, players, we’ve got to lock in and get that right.”
The Hogs’ struggling effort to defend the run made it easy for Storey to fake to Walker and then throw a 69-yard touchdown pass to a completely wide open Pearson, 10 catches for 120 yards.
“Ty is a good quarterback and he played lights out,” Pool said. “He did what he needed to do and put the ball where he needed to put it.”
He also put Morris all the more on the hot seat, expressing the usual disappointments this time lamenting Senior Day at Reynolds Razorback Stadium instead of last week’s homecoming loss to Mississippi State.
“I was disappointed we were not able to send our seniors out any better than that,” Morris said. “It was not what we intended for these guys today. Could not overcome a slow start, could not get off the field, and unable to get any, much time of possession, especially in the first half.”
Admittedly inheriting a short stick in 2018 with predecessor Bret Bielema 4-8, overall and 1-7 in the SEC in 2017, but now a two season 0-14 SEC record and now four Group of Five team losses at Colorado State last year and at home last year to North Texas and two at home this year to San Jose State and this 45-19 trouncing by Western Kentucky, does Morris think he’s still the man for this Arkansas job?“
“Absolutely, I am the guy,” Morris replied citing this a predominantly freshman and sophomore team. “There’s no question. I knew that this was going to take some time. I knew this was going to be a process of recruiting and developing and building, especially in this conference. I knew the strains that take place weekly in this conference and the depth that it needs to be successful. Right now, we don’t have that. We’ve got to go get that and we’ve got to recruit to it, and we’ve got to continue to develop. It’s unfortunate we’re playing as many young guys as we’re playing, but that’s the truth.”
Photos curtesy of Craven Whitlow
CW3, Sports Action