FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. | Nearly two years and one team ago. That was the last time Nick Starkel started a college football game at quarterback.
It won’t be that long again.
Starkel, in his first start in an Arkansas uniform, led the Razorbacks on two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, breaking a 34-all tie and sending Arkansas to a 55-34 win over Colorado State on Saturday.
The Razorbacks (2-1) earned their first victory over an FBS opponent this season and only the second in coach Chad Morris’ 15 games dating back to last year.
Those 15 games were all more recent than Starkel’s last nod to begin a game. The transfer from Texas A&M threw for for 499 yards and four touchdowns in the Aggies’ 2017 Belk Bowl loss to Wake Forest. That performance was followed by the loss of his starting job to Kellen Mond the next year. He then transferred to Arkansas in spring 2019.
“It felt great to start, finally be out there for the first snap. Definitely helps my confidence,” Starkel said after his 305-yard, three-touchdown game against Colorado State.
He was named Arkansas’ starter Monday after entering and playing well in the second half of the Razorbacks’ loss to Ole Miss last Saturday. Starkel rewarded Morris’ faith by going 20 for 35. After the game, though, he deferred praise to his youthful teammates, chiefly his two freshman wide receivers, Trey Knox and Treylon Burks.
Burks had 92 yards receiving on four catches. Knox had 90 yards on six grabs, including an impressive catch on a jump ball for a touchdown in the first quarter.
“I told them before the season, the SEC doesn’t care how old you are,” Starkel said. “There is no age restriction in the SEC. They’re freshmen; they can make plays just like everyone else can.”
Starkel was cool in the fourth quarter with the game tied. He completed three straight passes for 12, 17 and 20 yards on the go-ahead drive before Devwah Whaley’s 5-yard touchdown run capped it for a 41-34 lead. He then threw a 62-yard touchdown to Cheyenne O’Grady on the ensuing series.
“I thought Nick did a great job. I really did. He had prepared himself very well. I thought his comfort level grew as the game went,” Morris said.
Colorado State (1-2) rallied from a 14-point, first half deficit and tied it at 34 when back-up quarterback Patrick O’Brien scrambled and found Dante Wright for a 75-yard touchdown pass near the end of the third quarter. O’Brien entered for starter Collin Hill during the Rams’ first drive of the second half when it appeared Hill, who has twice suffered a torn ACL in his left knee, tweaked his leg.
“Losing Collin Hill was a big blow,” Colorado State coach Mike Bobo said. “We’ll get an MRI out on his knee tomorrow. After he went out, we couldn’t really function as an offense and we’ve got to fix that.”
Colorado State’s best offensive weapon was running back Marvin Kinsey Jr. The senior had a career-high 180 yards on 20 carries. He scored on a 75-yard scamper on the second play of the game.
Arkansas scored on its first five drives, including two touchdown passes by Starkel. The Razorbacks capped the scoring when LaDarrius Bishop picked up a Kinsey fumble and hauled it 25 yards to the end zone with 3:31 left in the game.
Morris was happy about his team’s ability to overcome late, something Arkansas had not done once in his tenure. The Razorbacks squandered an 18-point lead in the second half of a loss against Colorado State in 2018.
“Our guys weren’t going to let this happen again,” Morris said. “They were certain we were going to go win this thing in the fourth quarter.”
Colorado State: The Rams’ offense continued to prove its worth after scoring 31 and 38 points in its first two games, but the 522 yards allowed were the most given up on the season.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks’ 24 first-quarter points were the most it has scored in Chad Morris’ tenure as head coach. The 522 yards of total offense were the team’s best mark under Morris. Already on his fifth quarterback, he may have finally found his man.
HE SAID IT
More than 50 players on Arkansas’ roster are freshmen or sophomores. Morris was glad to see them respond under pressure: “Response was it. We did that several times today. We had to. Our back was against the wall. We responded and we finished. That was the next thing. I thought you saw some youth making some plays out there.”
A PERMANENT GIG
Morris had played at least two quarterbacks in a majority of his previous 14 games coaching Arkansas. Saturday marked the first time in 2019 he had not. Starkel responded with the most passing yards and second most completions of any of the previous four quarterbacks Morris had played with regularity.
BACK IN THE FOLD
Whaley has played most of the last two seasons as the No. 2 to Boyd at running back.
Ideally, Morris has said, the two would be a 1A and 1B. Whaley’s showing Saturday (81 yards and a touchdown on nine carries) was his best since losing the starting job to Boyd after the Colorado State game last year.
THE BEAST IS BACK
O’Grady, a senior tight end, didn’t play in the first quarter and missed part of the week’s practice battling strep throat. But he shed five Colorado State tacklers, each one with at least a touch and three with a wrap-up, on his fourth-quarter touchdown.
PLAY OF THE GAME
O’Grady’s score was the back-breaker. Colorado State was only down a touchdown when it happened with 5:32 left. The dejected feeling carried over into the next drive when the Rams fumbled and the Razorbacks scored on the recovery.
Colorado State: The Rams conclude the nonconference portion of their schedule at home against Toledo on Saturday.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks host a second consecutive Mountain West opponent when San Jose State visits Fayetteville on Saturday.