FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas’ defense had six sacks and three interceptions in a 20-13 victory over Portland State on Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
It wasn’t a pretty win, but much better looking than Tennessee’s 38-30 loss to Georgia State in Knoxville. Arkansas’ three interceptions came by safety Kamren Curl, safey Joe Foucha and cornerback Jarques McClellion. Last year’s team only had five interceptions in 12 games and only two different players. Chad Morris talked about the interceptions.
“I think that’s a credit to our defensive front,” Morris said. “I thought our defensive front forced him to make some impulse decisions and I was pleased. Joe had one, Kam had one and Jarques had one. And both Kam and Jarques, it was a really good pick, I thought that was more of a credit to our defensive front.”
Foucha’s interception came with Portland State’s Jalani Eason passing deep with time running out in the game. Foucha picked it off at the Arkansas 42 and returned it to the Vikings’ 38, but risked a fumble on the return. Morris was asked if he was screaming for Foucha to get down on the play since there was only 11 seconds remaining in the game?
“I was about to tackle him,” Morris said. “We’ve worked that, but I guess we don’t work it enough. But, yeah, he knows.”
Curl and defensive tackle Sosa Agim each had two sacks while linebacker Hayden Henry had one and then linebacker Scoota Harris and defensive end Jamario Bell teamed up for a sack.
Curl talked about the sacks and turnovers.
“We kept it simple,” Curl said. “That’s what we mainly focused turnovers all fall camp and spring. So getting the three picks set the tone for the season. We’re gonna try to do that every game. The [six] sacks, the defensive line emphasized getting push and that’s what they did all game. We got the quarterback under pressure.”
Curl talked about his interception and also what happened on Portland State’s late touchdown when it appeared the junior safety might have a play on the ball?
“On the pick, I was just the high safety reading the quarterback,” Curl said. “I read his eyes then I went to get it.
“On the touchdown, the quarterback was scrambling and we were all running with the quarterback trying to read his eyes and he really just threw it over everybody’s head and the tight end just made a really good play. The tight end had a good game, and he made a really good play on that play.”
The touchdown play came on a fourth-and-13 play at the Arkansas 32 when Eason was scrambling and found tight end Charlie Taumoepeau for a touchdown with 4:14 remaining in the game.
Agim also talked about his two sacks.
“Basically just running to the ball, just relentless effort,” Agim said. “That’s just what we try to preach all the time just relentless effort, get to the ball, just full tilt. So, that’s basically what I was trying to do. Sometimes you’re going to miss tackles. So, you can’t rely on your teammates to make the tackles all the time. So, like, sometimes you’ve got to make sure that he’s down. So, that’s basically what we were doing.”
Agim also talked about what was going through his mind on Portland State’s last drive prior to Foucha’s interception.
“Get a turnover and get down,” Agim said. “That basically was the thought process going through our mind. Get to the quarterback. We knew he had to throw the ball. Basically get pressure on him, try to contain him, let him try to throw the ball, and obviously get a turnover like we did and get down.”
Rakeem Boyd Standout on Offense
Junior running back Rakeem Boyd rushed 18 times for 114 yards and one touchdown while catching three passes for 22 yards.
Following the game, Boyd talked about his performance and sharing the carries with Devwah Whaley and Chase Hayden.
“I mean, really just lean on each other,” Boyd said. “This one goes, that one goes, and we just kind of keep rotating. I thought it worked pretty well today and kept us healthy.”
Being healthy next Saturday that is something very important for Boyd following his injury in the Ole Miss game last season.
“Yes, sir. I mean, really this game is for redemption,” Boyd said. “Last year, we were up on them and I got hurt, we got down, and stuff like that. This year, we just have to finish. I got to stay healthy.”
In his first start at Arkansas, senior Ben Hicks finished 14 of 29 passing for 143 yards and was only sacked once.
Following the game, Hicks was asked what he thought about his performance?
“I thought I played OK, nothing spectacular,” Hicks said. “I tried to go out there and do my job. I thought we moved the ball well just didn’t punch it in the end zone enough. We’ll go back and watch film tomorrow and figure out what we need to do going into week 2.
“We moved the ball, but we just didn’t score points especially when our defense gets turnovers like that. You’ve got to make teams pay for turning the ball. We’ll go back tomorrow, watch film and figure out what we need to do.”
Specifically what do you feel you need to work on the most heading into the Ole Miss game?
“I thought I made plays on third down,” Hicks said. “I could have done better on deep ball. I was trying to give them too much of a chance and not putting enough on it. Again, we ran the ball well. I was just trying to do my job.”
Hicks had two freshmen wide receivers to throw it to. Treylon Burks caught three passes for 52 yards while Trey Knox added one reception for 38 yards. Hicks talked about the two freshmen.
“I thought both of them played well for the first time,” Hicks said. “They have a chance to go watch film and see what they can do better. They’ve got a little bit of experience under their belt and they know what it’s like to go play college football. That will be good for them going into week 2 having the film they have will be big going into Oxford.
“I thought overall both of them played well. They made some plays. Treylon made some plays, Trey made some plays and we need that out of them. We’re counting on them. We need them to make plays. I think that will be the emphasis going into next week saying, ‘Hey guys, you’ve got to make plays’ and I think they will respond. I thought it was good for the first time out.”
Hicks played three years plus a redshirt year at SMU before transferring to the Razorbacks. Was he nervous on Saturday?
“It’s kind of interesting, but I thought the most nerves that I had was when we left the hotel and we were driving over,” Hicks said. “I kind of had some nerves not knowing what to expect but once I got into the stadium, put everything on and going through warmups, I felt good. I felt like I was back in my element. It was football. I got a lot of experience playing football and I kind of fell back on my training and went out and played.”
Morris talked about Hicks, Nick Starkel (who played two series) and the offense which had 395 total yards, but only 20 points.
“I was very disappointed offensively,” Morris said. “I didn’t think that we really ever got into rhythm. By design I was going to play Nick. I didn’t know exactly when I was going to play him. But it was an opportunity to get him some reps. That’s what we chose to do, what I chose to do. I thought he did OK. I thought he did some things, as Ben, where we were just OK. We’ll continue to improve. We’ve got a lot of work to do offensively. Not the performance I wanted to see from an offensive unit in week one.
“But we found a way. I thought there was some good things with some of the guys who made some plays. Treylon Burks made some plays. We missed him on a few throws where we had a guy open and couldn’t get the ball to him. But Trey Knox had a big catch right there from Nick in the first half.”
The first half ended with Arkansas at the Portland State 16, but time ran out before the Hogs could get the clock stopped thus denying themselves of any chance at three points.
“But I was disappointed right there at the end of the first half,” Morris said. “We had an opportunity to kick a field goal. I was signaling ‘clock’ to kill the ball, and we had one of our signalers signaling a ‘run it again’ call. So there was miscommunication right there. I thought we had an opportunity to kick a field goal and that’s on me. I’ll get that corrected.”
The series prior to the last one Arkansas had the ball at the Portland State 18 following a Curl interception. Morris inserted Starkel and following a run and completion the junior quarterback threw an interception.
“It was really frustrating,” Morris said. “We had a big play, the Kam Curl interception, and we get the ball down there. We couldn’t get it in the end zone, actually turned the ball right back over to them. That was disappointing that we couldn’t come away with some type of points.
“Then right before the half, I thought we managed our timeouts as well as we could to get the ball back. We got down there and again, it was a miscommunication and that was completely on me.”
Morris did say that Hicks was the starter for the Ole Miss game next Saturday.
“Ben’s going to start next week,” Morris said. “Yeah, Ben’ll start.”
Morris held senior tight end Cheyenne O’Grady out of the game, but said he would play next week. He had surgery on his knee on Aug. 13. Senior left guard Austin Capps and senior defensive end Dorian Gerald left Saturday’s game with injuries. Morris wasn’t sure of the extent of either immediately after the game.