KNOW YOUR FOE: Arkansas turns to offensive-minded Chad Morris to turn it around

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, July 11, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the seventh in a 12-part series breaking down each of Ole Miss’ football opponents for the 2018 season.

Arkansas moved on from Bret Bielema after last season and hired Chad Morris away from SMU.

With that came more change than usual in Fayetteville.

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Not only are the Razorbacks getting used to a new leading voice but also a different offensive philosophy, something the 49-year-old Morris brought with him after three seasons at SMU, his first head coaching job. Morris, a former Texas high school coach, broke onto the national scene by transforming Clemson’s offense with his no-huddle, spread attack as Dabo Swinney’s offensive coordinator from 2011-14.

Ole Miss will see it for the first time when the teams meet at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock on Oct. 13 in the first of six straight SEC games to end its season. Moving on from Bielema’s pro-style offense means Morris has to find the personnel that’s best equipped to run his up-tempo scheme, but that will be challenging with the Razorbacks’ roster largely comprised of inherited players that weren’t recruited for his system.

The first position on that list is quarterback. Cole Kelley ended last season as the starter there, completing 57 percent of his passes for 1,038 yards and eight scores on the season after taking over for an injured Austin Allen, but the 6-foot-7, 263-pounder ended the spring in a dead heat for the job with junior Ty Storey, a former four-star recruit who’s getting a fresh start after playing in just five games his first two seasons. Redshirt freshman Daulton Hyatt is also in the mix while true freshmen Connor Noland and John Stephen Jones will bring more athleticism to the competition in the fall.

Arkansas quarterback Cole Kelley looks to hand off against Ole Miss at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss. on Saturday, October 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Oxford Eagle, Bruce Newman)

Whoever takes the snaps will have some familiar targets to throw to with the Razorbacks returning their three leading receivers in Jonathan Nance, Deon Stewart and Jordan Jones, who should all see more passes thrown their way this fall. The same goes for senior Jared Cornelius, who’s back after missing most of last season with an Achilles injury. Junior La’Michael Pettway, a former Ole Miss recruit, could also be in line for a bigger role after starting three games last season.

Bielema’s recruiting left the Razorbacks with plenty of options to balance things out at running back, though it remains to be seen if a featured back emerges. Junior Devwah Whaley was the closest thing Arkansas had to that last season, getting a team-high 127 carries for 559 yards and seven touchdowns. Leading rusher David Williams is gone, but Chase Hayden and T.J. Hammonds, who averaged 8.2 yards on his 32 carries last season, have experience that could allow Arkansas to take a committee approach in the backfield if needed.

Having its three leading tacklers back in linebackers De’Jon Harris and Dre Greenlaw and safety Santos Ramirez is a start for a defense that needs to do its part after allowing the second-most yards in the SEC last season, but all eyes will be on Morris’ specialty on the other side of the ball for a team that finished last in the Western Division with a 4-8 record last season.

Arkansas has finished in the West cellar three of the last five seasons, but Morris is joining a series that’s seen the Razorbacks win four straight, including a 38-37 victory last season in which Arkansas erased a 24-point deficit in Oxford.