FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas coach Chad Morris was wary of calling last week's win over Colorado State a turning point in the Razorbacks' fortunes under his watch, but he came close.
Arkansas (2-1, 0-1 SEC) beat Colorado State with three fourth-quarter touchdowns, turning a tie game into a rout. It was just the second win over an FBS opponent the Razorbacks have had since Morris was hired in December 2017.
Morris' upbeat attitude all week ahead of Saturday's home game against San Jose State made sense, then.
"I thought (the fourth quarter against Colorado State) was a big moment for this team, for where we've been here for over 19 months," Morris said. "I thought that was a defining moment for the direction of this team and where we are heading."
Arkansas was able to match its win total from last year thanks in large part to new quarterback Nick Starkel. He transferred from Texas A&M in the offseason, made his first start of the year and threw for 305 yards and three touchdowns against the Rams.
More than the win itself or finding a fit at quarterback, Morris wanted to talk about how Arkansas beat Colorado State. What was lacking in the previous 14 games — a killer instinct — finally arrived. In the 2018 meeting with Colorado State, Arkansas blew an 18-point lead and lost by seven points. This year, the game was tied at 34 until the Razorbacks scored three straight touchdowns, the first coming with just 8:52 to play , in a 55-34 win.
"The way we won the game in the fourth quarter and how we finished strong is something we'll continue to build upon, especially with how we lost this same game a year ago," Morris said.
Arkansas will try to win two straight for the first time in Morris' tenure. San Jose State (1-1) is coming off a 34-16 loss to Tulsa two weeks ago.
San Jose State coach Brent Brennan was impressed with how Arkansas closed out against Colorado State.
"Tied late in the game and all of the sudden they explode," he said. "It shows you what they're capable of in terms of how hard they play and kind of what I'm sure coach Morris and his staff is trying to instill in that program."
Spartans quarterback Josh Love was injured against Tulsa two weeks ago, but Brennan said the senior will play Saturday.
Slowing Arkansas' suddenly dangerous offense and allowing Love time to do damage are likely to be the biggest issues for San Jose State. Arkansas linebackers Ethan Aguayo and Jesse Osuna could present problems; Aguayo leads the nation in tackles per game at 18.
San Jose State had fewer than 72,000 fans at its home games in 2018. Arkansas' Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium holds 76,000. Brennan said he wasn't worried about the crowd. What concerns him is humidity. Scattered showers are expected throughout Saturday and Fayetteville could be steamy.
"The one thing I cannot pump into our practice environment is 90% humidity," he said. "That is going to be something we are going to have mentally prepare for more than anything."
Three Arkansas defenders played sparingly in the late moments last week. Staring weakside linebacker Bumper Pool (clavicle) and top reserve linebacker Hayden Henry (shoulder) are expected to be ready against San Jose State. Reserve defensive end Zach Williams (knee) is out for at least two weeks.
Brennan has noticed Morris' prowess as an offensive mind since the Arkansas coach was roaming high school sidelines in Texas in the early 2000s. He wasn't surprised the Razorbacks found their groove against the Rams.
"Have watched his teams for a long time, even back to his high school days, he's one of those guys who has always been extremely creative offensively and done a good job every stop he's been at," Brennan said.