FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Nick Starkel spent his first week running practice reps with the Arkansas starters the same way he spent the previous weeks running practice reps with the second unit.
For a player in his first year at a new school making his first start at quarterback, Starkel was cool about the change.
He has to stay that way Saturday, too, if his Razorbacks have any hope of salvaging the season.
Arkansas (1-1) hosts Colorado State (1-1) in a game that features two teams predicted to finish near the bottom of their respective conferences. A loss for the Razorbacks, however, would make a far bigger ripple — especially after the Rams beat Arkansas a year ago in a stunner that helped ensure the first season for coach Chad Morris at Arkansas would be nothing worth remembering.
“Everyone in the QB room prepares as if they’re the starter,” Starkel said. “There’s a guy running with the 1s and that’s probably who is going to start. But it’s really the same preparation for me.”
The nonchalance was par for the course for Arkansas players all week, but they remember last year’s loss.
Arkansas built an early lead with Ty Storey under center and then raised it to an 18-point advantage after Morris had a halftime change at quarterback, installing Cole Kelley. Kelley’s first two drives resulted in Arkansas touchdowns and with as many as 17 minutes left in the game, the Razorbacks were comfortable against an 0-2 Rams team that had been blown out the week before. But they finished with 40 yards the entire rest of the game. They gave up Colorado State scores on four straight possessions to end things. One of those scores came on a 96-yard drive and Izzy Matthews’ 1-yard touchdown run with 8 seconds left sealed it.
Arkansas won just one more game the rest of the year. Colorado State won two.
Morris said it is up to his team to make sure they don’t lose consecutive games to a Mountain West foe.
“They look much improved from a year ago,” Morris said. “These guys are definitely playing extremely well. But … It’s about us. That’s our focus on how we’re going to respond this week.”
Morris pulled starter Ben Hicks midway through last week’s 31-17 loss at Mississippi. Starkel brought some life to the offense, though his lone scoring drive came with the Razorbacks down 21 points with less than two minutes left.
Still, Morris named Starkel, the Texas A&M transfer, his starting quarterback for the Colorado State game. Arkansas has sought a spark since Morris took over for the fired Bret Bielema in December 2017 and Starkel could be it.
Colorado State had lost six straight games dating to last year before beating Western Illinois 38-13 last week. The Rams had seven sacks and held WIU to 215 total yards, including 100 in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach.
“I think any team, any program that gets a win, you build off of it,” Morris said.
A year ago, Arkansas ran 74 plays on offense and 53 of them were runs leading to 299 yards overall and 5.6 per carry. The rush attack so far this season, led by Rakeem Boyd and Devwah Whaley, is averaging 132.5 yards per game.
The Rams said they cannot afford to fall behind again to Arkansas, not on the road.
“We definitely can’t,” defensive tackle Ellison Hubbard said. “It’s going to kill us if we let them run over us. This year we took a different approach and make sure we stop the run. We’re going to be ready for that run.”
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