Kelley struggles, gives way to freshmen against North Texas


Not only was Arkansas’ quarterback situation not solved in Saturday’s blowout loss to North Texas, the lack of a reliable playmaker under center was made even more evident.

Head coach Chad Morris elected to roll with redshirt sophomore Cole Kelley to start the contest, reverting back to his decision in the opener against Eastern Illinois. Kelley, who sputtered in the first game, had a similar result against the Mean Green.

After being forced to punt, Kelley threw his first interception of the day on Arkansas’ second possession of the game, leading wide receiver Michael Woods too far to the middle of the field. That turnover led to a 2-yard touchdown run by UNT quarterback Mason Fine.

The Mean Green forced another Razorback punt on the ensuing drive after Kelley attempted to toss a bomb that would’ve resulted in many more yards than were needed, a theme throughout the day, returning the punt for a 90-yard touchdown. Then, Kelley gave away his second interception on a tipped pass.

“I think Cole (Kelley) turned the football over entirely too much…I think there were several miscommunications out there with it…We have to go back and be able to run our base offense effectively,” Morris said.

Kelley would eventually lead a touchdown drive, running for a 5-yard score and another scoring drive that ended in a 54-yard field goal by Connor Limpert, but outside of those, the 6-7 quarterback was totally out of sync. Kelley threw his third interception of the game with approximately eight minutes left in the first half. Each of his giveaways led to UNT scores – two touchdowns and a field goal – giving the Mean Green a short field.

At halftime, Kelley was a measly 14 of 32 passing for 161 yards and those three interceptions.

“Through practice…we were going to try to stay with one guy…with hopes to give the entire game to Cole (Kelley). Cole had the better week of practice…I made the decision to stick with Cole in the second half. I wanted to see if he could rally us back. We went into halftime, made some good adjustments and talked,” Morris said.

Kelley took the field in the third quarter to a chorus of boos from the limited number of Razorback fans that had remained in the stands. Not only did Kelley fail to lead Arkansas to a comeback, he threw his fourth and final pick of the game on a questionable flea flicker call, ending his day.

“I think it’s really easy to pick one guy to point a finger at. And for the majority of the first half, I think that guy was Cole…at least by the outside world,” wide receiver Jared Cornelius said, clearly upset. “When you come out of the locker room and your starting quarterback is getting boo’ed by the home team, when is that right? How is that right?…At the end of the day, that’s somebody’s son…I’m not going to sit around and act like that’s okay. We’re still in the game and you’re boo’ing. That’s not the standard, that’s not going to be the standard.”

Ty Storey, the Hogs’ starter in the Colorado State game, never saw the field the entire day, leaving some questioning his status. There was reason for limited hope, however, as true freshmen Connor Noland and John Stephen Jones both saw the field for the first time in cardinal and white.

“I wanted to go with Connor Noland, I didn’t want to put Ty (Storey) in that situation being down that far,” Morris said.

Similar to the applause Mitch Mustain received in his first action in Fayetteville against USC, Noland took the field to a standing ovation. On his first drive ever, Noland made a dazzling play with his legs, scrambling for 13 yards and a first down on a big third-down play. Beyond that, the first-year passer barely received enough time to blink before the UNT pressure was in his face.

After sitting out a drive, Noland did re-enter the game and throw an interception, but it’s difficult to blame him with the limited time he received. Noland finished the game 4 of 7 for 25 yards, adding a pair of impressive scampers.

“First of all, you love seeing those young guys get in there and have a little spark. Connor Noland is a happy guy, telling jokes before he came in…They got a lot of pressure…so that’s hard. Getting up after that…that’s what you want to see from your young quarterbacks,” Cornelius said.

Fellow freshman John Stephen Jones also got the call on Saturday, entering the game in garbage time on his own 8-yard-line. Like Noland, Jones used his legs to get the crowd on their feet, but his long run was called back due to holding, leading to a punt. Jones would go on to toss a pick-six of his own, putting Arkansas behind 44-10 late in the game.

On the day, Arkansas threw six interceptions to North Texas, leading to 65 yards in returns and 24 Mean Green points.

While the stats won’t impress anyone, Noland and Jones’ ability to extend plays and earn yards on the ground with their legs seemed to make them a threat Arkansas hasn’t seen with Kelley or Storey.

With the total ineffectiveness of Kelley and the absence of Storey, it’ll be interesting to see if Morris and his offensive staff lean on the freshmen to build for the future the rest of the season or if the older guys continue to split reps despite subpar showings. In the postgame press conference, Morris insisted he didn’t know who would start next week against Auburn but wouldn’t rule out starting a freshman.

“My message is that I love those guys. There isn’t anybody in the locker room that hurts more…than the coaches…We’re going to go back and look in the mirror and we’re going to bet better…It’s not a care problem. We’re going to get these guys that worked extremely hard to get where they are…My message is that it’s going to start with me to look back and self-reflect and go back to the basics,” Morris said.

Two things are painfully clear: Arkansas hasn’t found its quarterback yet and the rebuild on Morris’ hands won’t be complete anytime soon.

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