FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Junior quarterback Nick Starkel left the Texas A&M game in the second quarter following an interception.
When he tackled A&M’s Justin Madubuike Starkel injured his elbow. As it turned out the interception didn’t really hurt the Hogs since A&M running back Isaiah Spiller fumbled on the first play and De’Jon Harris scooped it up and raced into the end zone from six yards out.
But regardless of the Razorbacks scoring on the next play, Starkel wasn’t happy with himself for the play that resulted in him being hurt.
“The biggest takeaway from that play probably would be just don’t throw to the other team,” Starkel said. “We can talk about tackling all we want, but I shouldn’t have to be making a tackle. I shouldn’t be making that mistake. That’s on me. That’s me making a bad play worse in my opinion.
“That’s something I’ve got to get better at. That’s just something we’ve been stressing this whole week. Coaches have been stressing and they’ve been on me. I’m my hardest critic. I’m not gonna let them be any harder on me than I am on myself. I know that’s on me.”
The pass was intended for running back Rakeem Boyd. Starkel talked about the play.
“You practice one way the whole week always getting it,” Starkel said. “You always getting a look, always getting guys blocked where we have Rakeem running wide open. You have a little shuttle pass and we get in the game and the guy kinda plays in between us. So the shuttle pass turns into a real throw with the guy on him.
“I’ve just got to know sometimes they get us. Sometimes they beat us on a play. I’ve got to throw the ball away. I’ve got to do a better job of throwing the ball away or hold onto it and just run out there. Protect points in the red zone. Every possession has got to end with a kick. That’s something we’ve really stressed this week that every possession has got to end with a kick. We’ve always got to reserve the right to punt and also we’re not bad playing with a field goal instead of an interception.”
This season, Starkel completed 81 of 131 passes for 1,019, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. This game he should have a full compliment of healthy receivers to throw to something he hasn’t had the past two games.
“That’s awesome,” Starkel said. “That’s huge for us all those young guys being healthy. Getting C.J. (O’Grady) and everybody back out there. T.J. Hammonds, I know he got to play a little bit last game at A&M. That has been an awesome addition. He brings some fire and energy. Obviously having Treylon (Burks) and Trey (Knox) back is huge and C.J. The receiving corp we feel great this week.”
How much better is the offense with both Burks and Knox in the game?
“It really opens it up,” Starkel said. “You can see those guys make the safeties kind of respect them and respect the vertical pass game a lot more. But even when they’re out, we had guys like T-Mo (Tyson Morris) making plays in the middle of the field, bouncing off guys, breaking tackles and stuff like that. So when you get Treylon though, you get some real speed out there. So having that is huge. Teams definitely respect that I feel.”
Ben Hicks came in for you following the injury at A&M. He helped lead the Razorbacks on a rally that came up just short on the final drive. What did you think of his game?
“That’s expected,” Starkel said. “He’s been in this offense a long time and that’s it. One guy goes down, another guy’s got to step right in. And it’s not, you know, hey, get ready. It’s stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready. That’s what we preached, and he did a great job, and I told him. I came up to him after the game and I said ‘Hey, I’ve got a lot of respect for you and just what you did out there today.’ And so you know we’re good.”
How excited are you to go to Kentucky and play another true road game in the SEC?
“I think that it’s – you know – never make a game bigger than it is is kind of my mantra, my mentality,” Starkel said. “I was really preaching that against A&M was, hey, don’t make this game bigger than it is. That’s kind of what I’m sticking with.
“But honestly I think it’s fun that we’re going to play at a team’s place that we’ve never played at. They’re going to have a lot of their fans there. We travel well, but they’re gonna have home field advantage. We take that as we’ve got to bring our own energy. We’ve got to create our own plays. Nobody’s going to go out there and bring some other energy for us. So it’s really about us when we go to a place like that, especially at night. We’re excited about that.”
Starkel is also hoping for a good running game from the Hogs this week.
“That’s huge,” Starkel said. “That’s huge for us. That’s how it opens up our play-action pass, opens up our drop back passing game whenever teams start to load the box, as well as RPOs, when they start bringing guys in from different places to try to make tackles and fit gaps. Having that running game is huge.”
Starkel talked about what he has seen from studying the Kentucky defense on film as well.
“They’re a big defense,” Starkel said. “If you look at just pure number’s wise they’re big up front. I think they’ve got two 360-plus guys. They’ve got some big defensive ends and that’s a lot up front. They’ve got some good linebackers. 56 (Kash Daniel) is a good player. He’s a helluva player. They’ve got some good guys in the secondary as well. We feel we’ve got a good plan for them and feel we can match up well.”
Arkansas and Kentucky will kickoff at 6:30 p.m. CT on Saturday night. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.