By OTIS KIRK
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to take a 55-34 victory over Colorado State in Reynolds Razorback Stadium Saturday.
All preseason the players have talked about things are different this year. Even after last week’s loss to Ole Miss the players and coaches vowed this year is different. After 4-8 and 2-10 seasons it’s easy to just roll your eyes and think OK, whatever.
But that theory was put to test on Saturday when the Hogs saw a 34-24 lead disappear and Colorado State appear to have momentum. When back-up quarterback Patrick O’Brien threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to Dante Wright to tie the game at 34 with 2:26 remaining in the third quarter memories of last year’s game in Fort Collins came into play. Arkansas saw a 27-9 lead then turn into a 34-27 loss.
This year, that wasn’t the case. Arkansas took command of the game in the fourth quarter scoring three touchdowns in the final 8:52 of the game. Junior safety Kamren Curl talked about the difference this year.
“It’s different this year,” Curl said. “We’ve bought in. We know how to respond now. Last year we would have probably got down. Everybody would have got down and now we know how to respond as a team. I think that will help us keep going.
“The culture change and as I said we all just bought in. We can’t get down on ourselves any more when they score on the second play of the game. We’ve got more confidence now. More of a team.”
Senior defensive tackle McTelvin Agim also talked about the difference this year.
“It was 34-34 at one point,” Agim said. “I don’t think it was we didn’t know how to respond, we didn’t know how to communicate. This year the leaders have been doing a better job communicating on the sidelines. Making sure everybody is tuned in to what we do and accomplish the goal we have set.”
Agim went back to when he was a freshman and Arkansas closed the season with two disappointing losses letting big leads slip away.
“The thing I would say that is different from those years is I remember my freshman year Missouri and and Virginia Tech,” Agim said. “What I would say different is we can keep scoring. I feel like Nick (Starkel) showed that today. I know it was Colorado State and we’ve got San Jose State next week. How much he can improve, the offense can improve and the defense can improve as well. It was response. My freshman year we couldn’t score with people. It wasn’t hard to see. Now, I feel like we can score with people.”
Colorado State running back Marvin Kinsey Jr. broke free for a 75-yard touchdown on the second play of the game. However, Arkansas also scored on its first drive of the game when Starkel passed 24 yards to freshman wide receiver Trey Knox. The Hogs put up 24 points in the first quarter. The previous high for an entire game this year was just 20 points in the season opener.
“That definitely was big,” Agim said of the opening touchdown drive. “You could see the momentum on the sidelines. You could see the hype everybody had. We could feed off of it. We basically had to back up the offense today.”
Senior linebacker De’Jon Harris led Arkansas with 12 tackles. He talked about providing leadership following the opening touchdown by the Rams.
“I had a pep talk with the defense at the end when 22 scored and I was, like, ‘Man, it’s time to grow up. Too many excuses for a lot of players. We all played when we were younger,” Harris said. “I appreciate those guys responding to me. But it’s just a big jump from last year just flipping it for us and having this win, this momentum going into next week. I think the Kinsey play on the second play was — it was just a hit and miss play. I think with the front. We don’t know. We’ll have to see tomorrow when we get in the film room. But we made the adjustments. But that’s a pretty good back. They have some decent running backs and they made some plays.”
Agim talked about Harris’ talk.
“Scoota’s our leader, man,” Agim said. “He’s definitely top notch in the SEC and in the country. So we know when he’s saying something, we need to listen. He knows what’s going on. He’s basically pointing to us what Chief’s (John Chavis) pointing to him. He knows the defense. He knows what we need to be doing. So you can believe in him when he’s talking to you.
“When we gave up that touchdown on the second play, we understood what happened. We fixed it. He called some guys out … not calling them out, but actually calling them up. We made a couple more plays … We were giving up too many yards, too many outside runs. He basically called us up and told us we need to lock in and buckle down.”
Harris also said with the offense scoring at the clip it did today it made the defense’s job easier.
“It was huge just to see the offense,” Harris said. “This year, we not really concerned about what the offense do. We just got to do our jobs. That’s what we’re focused on to do. That’s why we try to create as many turnovers as we could to put them in the best situation. But that was just a hit and miss play on that second play. But just to see the offense come out gave us momentum to go out there and get off the field.”
Harris talked about how he prepared for this week’s game following last week’s 31-17 loss to Ole Miss.
“Personally I just made sure that I took care of my body, just like keeping food in me,” Harris said. “That’s why I’ve been missing snaps like the first two weeks. But we just kept it simple on both sides of the ball.
“It was basically, like C.J. (O’Grady) said, a pride thing. We just wasn’t going to let the Ole Miss game determine our season basically. It’s been like that since I’ve been here. The first loss of the season always determines our whole season. We put that game behind us and kept it simple. We had a couple miscues today, but we just came out here and executed the game plan.”
On a day when Arkansas’ defense surrendered 34 points, but still won by 21 the players could smile and know that after three games they have already equaled last year’s entire season’s win total. It does appear this year is going to be different.