Jim Harris’ Notebook: Hogs Wake Up With ‘Storeybook’ Finish to First Half, Roll 55-20


FAYETTEVILLE – Fourth-year junior quarterback Ty Storey came off the bench and threw three touchdown passes in the last 6:22 of the second quarter, and slow-starting Arkansas took care of business of Football Championship Subdivision opening foe Eastern Illinois 55-20 at new and improved Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Storey had lost out to sophomore Cole Kelley in the preseason battle for Hogs starting quarterback, but Kelley struggled to get Arkansas’s offense moving in the first 15 minutes. The Hogs recovered three fumbles in the first quarter, including one in the end zone by sophomore defensive lineman Briston Guidry for the season’s first touchdown. Another set up a chip-shot field goal by a dependable Connor Limpert. 

Nothing else went right for the offense. Kelley mostly misfired in the passing game, Razorback receivers couldn’t seem to get open when Kelley had time to throw, and the Hogs’ running game was mostly nonexistent.

Storey got the nod on the Hogs’ first drive of the second quarter. He responded by taking Arkansas 80 yards in 11 plays, the key moment coming when on third down Storey stepped up and found sophomore receiver Jordan Jones down the middle for 46 yards. That opened up some running room for Devwah Whaley, who scored on a 1-yard run.

Then the dam broke for Storey and the Hogs. Suddenly, maligned receivers like Jones and LaMichael Pettway started looking pretty good, and making Storey look good. Pettway had to reach back for Storey’s 14-yard pass in the middle of the end zone, fell onto his back and still pulled in the touchdown catch. When Eastern finally broke through by hitting a bomb on the UA defense, Storey and Pettway answered, with Storey again stepping up into the pocket and showing a pretty good deep arm. Pettway still had to come back a little, but he had so much distance behind the EIU secondary, it was an easy score, 48 yards.

The Hogs were greedy for more after getting the ball back at their 43 with a minute left in the half. On the first play, Storey had Jones running free behind the Panthers’ secondary for a 57-yard score. The 28-point second quarter had Arkansas in total command 38-6, and Storey seemingly now in command for Arkansas’s starting quarterback job with a trip ahead to Fort Collins, Colo., to meet Colorado State next Saturday (6:30 p.m. CDT).

Here are five key points to Saturday’s win:

Ty Storey, who was 10 of 13 passing in the second quarter, finished 12 of 17 for 261 yards. He also ran for a 2-yard touchdown in the third quarter following yet another EIU fumble and a 60-yard runback by freshman linebacker Bumper Pool. Storey, a Charleston product, never had the chance under former coach Bret Bielema to contribute much at quarterback behind Austin Allen and then Kelley, who subbed forr Allen during part of last season. When Kelley was suspended for the second-to-last game of the season last year, Bielema put back Allen, who had nursed an arm injury for four weeks, in the starter’s role. And, it’s not like Storey showed he deserved a lot more time in the past, nor did it look like he had any edge at all on Kelley in fall camp with new UA coach Morris. His spring game performance was spotty at best, and reportedly, though no media got to see it, Storey threw three interceptions in the team’s second scrimmage.

Whatever Storey wasn’t showing coaches in practice, it all showedup impressively in a game situation Saturday. Perhaps Storey benefited from NOT starting but getting to watch the game unfold with Kelley over the first 15 minutes before getting his shot.

Kelley would come back after Storey retired for the day and threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to tight end Austin Cantrell to complete the scoring. Kelley was 9 of 12 for 92 yards passing.

Was Storey perfect? Hardly, but the offense noticeably perked up under his leadership. He was helped by his receivers, particularly Pettway and newcomer Chase Harrell, a lanky transfer from Kansas. There was one Storey throw early on into coverage that might have been disastrous against SEC secondary. But, there were far more good plays, including a terrific back-shoulder throw from Storey to Harrell (great catch, too) in the third quarter.

To EIU’s credit, the Panthers ran the spread offense at times the way Chad Morris wishes his squad eventually will. Tunnel screens and slip screens often moved the chains for EIU, which had 21 first downs to the Hogs’ 18. But five lost fumbles out of six total destroyed any chance for EIU to be competitive after Storey took over in the second quarter.

Arkansas forced those fumbles; they just weren’t gifts dropped in the Hogs’ laps. Arkansas’s defense had far more active hands than we’ve seen in years, with several batted balls to go along with the strips of ball carriers and quarterbacks. Two possible interceptions were in the hands and out, too. This is part of what new defensive coordinator John Chavis was supposed to bring to a defense that fell to the bottom of the SEC in the past two years. Short in talent, a team has to force more takeaways. Arkansas never did under Bielema.

Arkansas brought more pressure with Chavis’ defensive sets than Arkansas ever did under its former head coach. EIU’s quick throws helped offset that, though. The Razorbacks got their best pressure when they had EIU in third-and-long situations.
Cornerback play was good for Arkansas at times, but there were two major breakdowns – one that resulted in a 41-yard score for EIU, the second against a third-string corner setting up a fourth-quarter score. EIU scored via the pass on its second touchdown, but it’s hard to fault Chevin Calloway’s coverage as much as it was a perfectly thrown fade pass.

Arkansas allowed just 3.1 yards per rush and less than 6 yards per completion, and even against FCS competition, those numbers are winning ones.

Also, linebacking play seems significantly improved in Chavis’ scheme. Senior Dre Greenlaw had TEN tackles in the first quarter before limping off and not returning (no announcement of his injury at this point). He was replaced by true freshman Bumper Pool, who seemed to be in on every other play during the second and third quarters. He, too, was helped off the field in the second half, however.

Arkansas has the proverbial long way to go, short time to get there with its offense. Eastern Illinois looked like a team that has been running this offense for a while; Arkansas looked like it had just started working on it. Devwah Whaley led the Hogs in rushing, but with just 28 yards. Some of the running play calls were pedestrian, but so was the response from the linemen blocking for them – little push at times.

This was against FCS defensive linemen, and it wasn’t an issue of quickness – pretty much just strength. EIU didn’t load the box to stop the run; often Arkansas had to deal with 5-6 at most up front, sometimes 4.

On the plus side for the line: no sacks to the starting quarterbacks.
Being more aggressive defensively, Arkansas was probably more susceptible to the quick-hitting screens of EIU, but the Hogs also wasted some of theirs with missed blocked from the wideouts.

Clearly, even if the QB job is going to Storey, Chad Morris’ offense is a work in progress.

Arkansas’s special teams were special on all but one play: Somehow two players were on the punt return team wearing No. 1 (returner Jared Cornelius, plus Chevin Calloway). So, a change of possession was wiped out by the sideline botch, and EIU went on to get its first touchdown of the game on the drive.

EIU missed two early field goals and had its first extra point blocked. One field goal was about the length of a point-after. It “could have been” 10-6 at one point without the Panthers’ kicking botches (and their five lost fumbles were crushing). But also, the short field goal was attempted on a fourth-and-1 with Arkansas up 10-0; we’ll second-guess Panthers head coach Kim Dameron, the former Hog defensive back from Rogers, for this one decision: Why come this far with this one chance against an SEC team and try a field goal when your offense was getting more than yard a play at that point? Fourth-and-4, we get it. Big miss anyway.

On Friday the Wall Street Journal had a feature noting the drop in college football attendance in recent years, even nothing that Arkansas’s actual turnstile scanning count of attendance was 57 percent below what was announced as game attendance last season.

So, this year, the UA said there were more than 63,000 at Saturday’s opener with Eastern Illinois.

Where those extra 13,000-15,000 fans were sitting that were included in that count is anyone’s guess. Minutes before kickoff, there were more students in the UA student section than the rest of the crowd on the east side.

And, of course, Arkansas unveiled its new north end zone enclosure with skyboxes and other seating totaling an additional 4,000 seats. It appeared to be half-full at best.

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