By OTIS KIRK
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Junior grad transfer Nick Starkel got his first start at Arkansas on Saturday and he made the most of it.
Starkel completed 20 of 35 passes for 305 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He helped lead the Razorbacks to a 55-34 victory over Colorado State. Chad Morris liked what he saw from Starkel.
“I think Nick opened up a lot of our run game,” Morris said. “I really do. Nick played very well. He was very confident. I’m very proud for him and this entire football team. Proud to see our guys rally around him.”
Starkel started the second half at Ole Miss last Saturday. He completed 17 of 24 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown to provide a spark for the Hogs even though they lost. Morris named Starkel the starter this past Monday.
“I thought Nick did a great job,” Morris said. “I really did. He had prepared himself very well. Again, he missed some things. He missed a couple of deep balls that I know he wished he could have back. But the ball comes out of his hand extremely quick. He sees the field really well and he’s able to communicate with us on the sidelines. I thought his comfort level grew as the game went.
“I think again we saw some of that last week in the second half. I think you saw his ability to move the offense. I thought our offense kind of picked up where we left off last week. He did provide that spark for us. Our players rallied around him. They know it’s going to take all those guys in the quarterback room to be successful. Very proud of the way all our guys, defensively and offensively, just came and put their hand on Nick and said ‘Let’s go. You’re our guy. We’re going to support you. Go show us.’ And he did.”
Starkel talked about his first game and how it felt to get the start.
“It felt great to start. Fun to be out for the first play,” Starkel said. “It means a lot, definitely helps my confidence. I know the receivers had confidence in me. With regards to that play, I told them I was going to get him the ball this game, and did just that. Let him go make a play. I didn’t see how he got out of it or anything, but he did his job that play.”
Starkel found Trey Knox for six receptions for 90 yards and one touchdown, Treylon Burks four grabs for 92 yards and senior tight end Cheyenne O’Grady for three catches for 74 yards and touchdown. Both Knox and Burks are true freshmen.
“Yeah, I told them before the season the SEC doesn’t care how old you’re are,” Starkel said. “There’s no age restriction in the SEC. It doesn’t matter. They’re freshman. They can go out there and make plays like everybody else can. They go up and get the ball and I like doing that. So, I like throwing to them.”
Starkel seems to have a very high comfort level with Knox in particular.
“A lot,” Starkel said. “Full confidence in him. He’s one I tell him he’s getting the ball.”
Starkel completed passes to eight different receivers as he also tossed a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Chase Harrell. He also saw Rakeem Boyd rush 20 times for 122 yards and two touchdowns while Devwah Whaley added nine carries for 81 yards and a score. What does it feel like to have playmakers with him on offense?
“And I said it last week. I could care less how many yards we have if we get a W at the end of the day,” Starkel said. “But as an offense with weapons in the backfield and spread out wide, then with a hand in the ground, there’s not a lot that we can’t do. We can do a lot: stretch the field vertically and then spread it wide, the speed of our backs and how we can get around people. Our offense is just kind of getting started right now.”
O’Grady paid a compliment to Starkel as well.
“Nick is, when he gets going, he gets going,” O’Grady said. “He has a lot of confidence. We saw that last game against Ole Miss. He was very consistent in what he did. He’s very, very consistent in throwing the ball and getting the ball to the receivers and just airing it out. He has confidence and that’s what we need.”
Starkel even had some fun with a reporter when pointed out he missed a couple of deep balls.
“Yeah, thank you for pointing that out,” Starkel said smiling. “I missed a lot of throws today. We’re going to go watch the film and correct it. That’s a lot of stuff there. It’s pretty much just pick a play on the call sheet and it will be right. Our coaches did a good job of keeping it simple this week and the defense wasn’t doing anything crazy to us, and, so, we felt like we had a lot of good plays there. Obviously running the ball was good for us today. And, so, just trying to get the ball in playmakers’ hands really.”
Arkansas will be at home on Saturday to host San Jose State at 6:30 p.m. The game will once again be televised on the SEC Network.