By Otis Kirk
Arkansas defeated Tulsa 23-0 on Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The Hogs did it without junior quarterback Ty Storey and junior left tackle Colton Jackson. Both were out with injuries. Here’s five thoughts from the game.
Connor Noland Delivered Win
The first true freshman to start at quarterback for the Hogs since Mitch Mustain, Connor Noland helped deliver a win to the team. He finished the game 10 of 16 passing for 124 yards, a touchdown and one interception. He also rushed five times for 20 yards.
The success he enjoyed came after he threw an interception on his second attempt of the day on Arkansas’ opening series. Noland’s pass was intercepted by McKinley Whitfield and returned 18 yards to the Arkansas 23. Noland talked about the interception after the game.
“On that first drive,” Noland said. “It’s a game, there’s going to be mistakes and all that stuff. So I’ve had a lot of experience with just – go to the next play. That was kind of my mindset doing that. Coach came up to me and patted me on the back and said ‘Go get them next play and just focus on it.’”
Arkansas’ left guard Hjalte Froholdt was impressed with how Noland reacted to the early adversity.
“For a young guy to be that fresh and enthusiastic about getting back onto the field is impressive,” Froholdt said. “He never froze up or gave you the deer in the headlights and didn’t say anything. He was comfortable with himself. He was like, ‘I threw a pick, next play.’
“And his mood was still up. He was enthusiastic about the game. It was really good to feel that, hey you made a mistake but he feels that. You can’t let that rollover and it was awesome to see from a freshman like him.”
Chad Morris also talked about how Noland handled the interception and went right back to work on the next series.
“When you start talking offensively, what a special moment for Connor (Noland), a young man from right down the road,” Morris said. “He’s probably dreamed of this moment his entire life. To be able to come out and lead the Hogs to a win, I’m very proud of him.
“I’m very proud of his fight, considering after the first drive he had an interception. He came right back over to the sidelines. It did not phase him one bit. That says a lot about a young man that’s a competitor. He’s been in these situations before, you can definitely tell that. First freshman starter in 12 years, to come in in an environment where we are in our program of needing a win.”
Morris said he knew Wednesday that Storey wasn’t gonna be able to play.
Enjoying the Shutout
Arkansas hadn’t enjoyed a shutout since Nov. 22, 2014, when it beat Ole Miss 30-0 on this same field. That came one week after Bret Bielema got his first SEC win at Arkansas beating LSU 17-0 also in Razorback Stadium.
Morris was pleased with the way the defense played and continued to heap praise on them.
“Defensively, eight TFL’s, six sacks and a shutout,” Morris said. “I said it last week that they were our rock and they did not disappoint today.”
The shutout was in jeopardy with Tulsa facing a fourth-and-seven play at the Arkansas 11 with time running out in the game. McTelvin Agim sacked Tulsa quarterback Seth Boomer for a seven-yard loss. John Scott had just sent him back into the game.
“Coach Scott told me he needed me on the inside pass rush,” Agim said. “So when I came in I knew I needed to get pressure on the quarterback. So it was just like we need to go get upfield and try to complete the shutout. We needed it.”
Agim talked about what it meant to get the shutout.
“We’ve got to carry that momentum into next week,” Agim said. “We finally got another win on our season so it’s time to keep it rolling.”
Crip Hall Award Winner
The Crip Hall Award goes to the senior voted on by the media for the best performance in the homecoming game.
This year the award went to defensive tackle Armon Watts. He finished the game with four tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss and a forced fumble. He talked about what it meant to get this award.
“I feel honored,” Watts said. “I know a lot of greats in the past have got it. Just to have my name mentioned is an honor. And I come in every week and push myself and the other guys and it paid off this week. I don’t think a better group deserved to win today.”
Morris was pleased to see Watts get the award and praised him how he has continued to work at Arkansas.
“You know Armon is such an inspiration to young players,” Morris said. “Young players that stick with it. This is a young man that came in here and is just now seeing a lot of success. He could’ve quit, he could’ve transferred, he could’ve moved on; but nope, he loves the Razorbacks and he’s going to stick it out. A young man like that, you want the best with him. He’s shared his story with a lot of our young players. I’m proud of him and proud of where he is.”
Watts also talked about the team getting the shutout against Tulsa.
“It was big,” Watts said. “It was definitely momentum for our defense and the next week is SEC. We’ve got to carry this with us and keep it up.”
Dalton Wagner In, Colton Jackson Out
Redshirt freshman Dalton Wagner got the start in place of the injured Colton Jackson. Morris talked about what happened to cause the lineup change.
“We get news right before we head from the hotel that Colton had some back spasms,” Morris said. “So he was out. We did not know that until the bus ride over here. We felt like maybe during warmups we could get him back, but he couldn’t go. Losing Johnny (Gibson), but he should be back. I thought Dalton Wagner played well. The way you cross train those guys you have to play them in different positions, and they responded.”
Kelly Bryant Cheers, Chants
Former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant is at Arkansas on his official visit. As the recruits worked their way to the field following the game, cheers for Bryant and fans chanting his name could be heard all over the north end of the stadium.
Bryant left Clemson after four games and will have one year to play at the school of his choice next season. Bryant was recruited to Clemson by Morris, who was the team’s offensive coordinator.
Bryant visited North Carolina last week. He said Wednesday he has no other visits set at this time, but isn’t in a rush to make his decision. While NCAA rules prohibit coaches from naming recruits, Morris did compliment the group the Hogs have on campus this week.
“We had a lot of great recruits here today,” Morris said. “I can’t wait to show off Fayetteville tonight to our recruits.”
Morris was asked what his message to the recruits this week was going to be?
“I think the biggest message that I want any recruit to hear — regardless of whether it’s this weekend or next weekend or whenever — is man, just look at the passion,” Morris said. “Just look at the love for this university that’s all across our state. You can just walk and feel it and see it and it’s evident. As I tell them, just open your eyes and open your ears. Because what we’re doing in this program and building a foundation and what great thing are coning, and coming every day, as we continue to get better, to be a part of something extremely special. That this fanbase, that this university, that this state so deserves.”
Arkansas is now 2-6 on the season and will host Vanderbilt at 11 a.m. on Saturday. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.