Arkansas finally answered the burning question fans have been asking since Chad Morris was named coach last December with Cole Kelley as the starting quarterback.
That question was answered and probably not the way most people expected.
Ty Storey came in and jump-started the offense, the defense got a whopping five turnovers and it was a 55-20 start in Morris’ first game.
But the staggering start was not something Morris wanted to see.
“it was an extremely slow start,” was how Morris put it later.
That was, quite simply, an understatement. Kelley started with great field position after Chevin Calloway jumped on a fumble at the Eastern Illinois 35.
Kelley got one first down, but then the offense misfired and Connor Limpert kicked a 35-yard field goal and an early 3-0 lead.
He couldn’t get the Razorbacks in the end zone for the rest of the first quarter, but the defense got another turnover when Briston Guidry recovered a fumble in the end zone caused by Armon Watts and it was a 10-0 lead.
“We could not get into a rhythm,” Morris said of the offense in the first quarter. “Our pace of play was very slow. We just couldn’t get things going.”
Thank goodness for the defense.
“The defense helped set the tone and get this thing started,” Morris said.
Storey helped. In the second quarter alone he was 10-of-13 passing for 214 yards and three touchdowns.
He passed to La’Michael Pettway for 14 yards on a play where Pettway fell down and still made the catch, then a 48-yard completion for a score and, after Morris handled the clock masterfully towards the end of the first half, hit a wide open Jordan Jones for a 57-yard play with 45 seconds left.
“At the time we were 3-0 and Ty saw an opportunity to step up and complete a pass up the middle to Jordan Jones,” Morris said. “That sparked him. That was the spark that we needed.”
That 46-yard pass to Jones was the spark, everyone agreed later.
“It just felt like it took that one play and we all settled down and got into a rhythm,” Storey said. “When you have guys like that out there, you just get them the ball and they’ll convert. My job is not too hard.”
Morris also was trying after the game to make things as smooth as possible for Kelley, but he made the same point he’s made all through spring and in fall camp.
“The name of the game is putting the ball in the end zone,” he said. “That’s really the key when this whole thing comes into play. How can I get the ball in the end zone?”
He didn’t forget Kelley, though.
“He was our starter and he was our finisher,” Morris said as Kelley played most of the fourth quarter, going 3-for-5 for 55 yards, most of it coming on a 42-yard catch and run to tight end Austin Cantrell.
Eastern Illinois, coached by former Razorback Kim Dameron, came into the game determined to not let Arkansas run the ball up the middle all day.
He knew the inexperience at quarterback the Hogs had and he was going to make them throw the ball to win, which the Hogs did when Storey came in.
“You have to give them credit and bringing some pressure and dropping some safeties down in the box,” Morris said. “I was expected more out of the run game, but I’m not quick to make an assessment on that until I watch some film, but I think there’s some areas that I think we have to get better in.
“Not everything, but we have to run harder, we’ve got to block better, we’ve got to hold our blocks better and we might have some reads and the quarterback position that we may have pulled a read when we should have held the read. Those are things that we’ll just go back in and reevaluate.”
In the end, though, it was a win.
“We’re just excited about starting this thing 1-0,” Morris said. “You can’t build a house without a foundation and we needed a starting point. That’s kind of what I’ve shared and what I’ve talked about from the get-go, something that we can use as a base moving forward.”
And it appears they’ll be moving forward with Storey at quarterback.