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Quarterback issues helped doom Chad Morris at Arkansas

Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks (AP Images)

When Arkansas hired Chad Morris to take over the program in late 2017, the Razorbacks thought they were getting the next great quarterback guru as their head coach. After all, Morris had helped recruit and develop Deshaun Watson at Clemson and he took SMU from one of the worst teams in all of FBS to a bowl game behind the play of quarterback Ben Hicks. But during his short time in Fayetteville, Morris could never settle on a quarterback and it was part of his undoing. Today, we take a look at many names Morris tried at the position.

FROM HAWGBEAT.COM: Arkansas fires Chad Morris after less than two seasons

CLASS OF 2020 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

CLASS OF 2021 RANKINGS: Rivals100 | Position | Team | State

As a recruit: A three-star in the Class of 2016, Kelley was recruited by Morris’ predecessor Bret Bielema and chose the Razorbacks over Kentucky, Oklahoma State and others.

Under Morris: Kelley actually started the season-opener for Arkansas in 2018, but his time as the main main under center didn’t last long. He was pulled in his first game in favor of Ty Storey, which started a yo-yo between the two quarterbacks of various parts of the rest of the season. Kelley finished with 455 yards passing and five touchdowns and five interceptions while completing just 52 percent of his passes. All of those numbers were down significantly over his lone season under Bielema, when he completed 57 percent of his passes four eight touchdowns and four interceptions.

After Morris: Kelley elected to transfer following the 2018 season and landed at FCS program Southeastern Louisiana. Kelley’s playing time has increased as the 2019 as gone along and he led the team to an upset victory over top-10 FCS program Central Arkansas in early November, throwing for 273 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 39 yards and four scores.

As a recruit: Another holdover from the Bielema era, Storey was a huge recruiting win at the time as the Rivals250 prospect chose to stay in-state and chose the Hogs over Alabama, Auburn and others.

Under Morris: Despite not winning the job to start the season, Storey actually saw quite a bit of playing time in 2018. Unfortunately, it didn’t lead to much success for the Razorbacks. Storey went 0-9 as a starter under Morris and finished the season with 1,584 yards passing and 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. After the Razorbacks openly courted graduate transfers, Storey elected to leave the program as a graduate transfer himself.

After Morris: Storey landed at Western Kentucky where he started the season as a backup, but an injury to starter Steven Duncan opened the door for Storey to take over the starting job. He hasn’t disappointed and got his revenge on Morris and Arkansas, throwing for 213 yards and a touchdown in a blowout WKU victory over the Razorbacks on Nov. 9.

As a recruit: Noland committed to Bielema in 2016 and stuck by his commitment after Morris was hired. He initially chose the Razorbacks over offers from Kentucky, Ole Miss and several others.

Under Morris: After seeing mop-up duty in this school’s upset loss to North Texas, Noland had to wait his turn to see the field again during his freshman season, finally getting a shot to start in the program's homecoming game against Tulsa. Noland helped lead the Razorbacks to a victory in what would turn out to be the most prolific game of his career as he threw for 124 yards with one touchdown and one interception while also rushing for 20 yards. Despite guiding the school to a win, he saw limited action the rest of the year and finished the season with 255 yards passing with one touchdown and two interceptions.

After Morris: Noland elected to leave the football program prior to the 2019 season to focus solely on baseball, where he is a member of the Razorbacks program.

As a recruit: A two-star in the class of 2018, Jones was a late take by Morris after he had a prolific high school career in Texas. Jones is the grandson of former Razorbacks player and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Under Morris: Jones saw his first action as a backup in the Razorbacks' blowout loss to North Texas, going 0-for-3 and throwing an interception. He was limited to spot duty the rest of the year and finished the year 2-of-8 passing for 18 yards. Jones started 2019 as the third-string quarterback, but after impressing in mop-up duty against Alabama and Mississippi State, he was named the starter heading into the Western Kentucky game. Jones went 3-of-10 for 27 yards and an interception before giving way to KJ Jefferson.

As a recruit: Hicks initially committed to Houston but after the Cougars made a coaching change he looked at other options and eventually landed at SMU. Hicks was Morris’ first quarterback signee after he took the job with the Mustangs. He choose SMU over Texas Tech and several others.

Under Morris: At SMU, Morris and Hicks teamed to helm a prolific offense, capped off by a 3,569-yard, 33-touchdown season in 2017. But when the two parted ways both struggled as Hicks numbers dipped to 2,582 yards and 19 touchdowns. With the writing on the wall that new coach Sonny Dykes would prefer to play his own guy at quarterback in 2019, Hicks entered the transfer portal and eventually committed to reunite with with Morris in Fayetteville. He opened the season as the team’s starter and threw for 143 yards in a win over Portland State, but his season never really got off the ground. Through his first six appearances he completed just 48 percent of his passes while throwing two touchdowns and two interceptions.

As a recruit: After initially committing to Oklahoma State, Starkel nearly flipped to UCLA before ending up at Texas A&M. He opened the 2017 season as the Aggies' starter, before an injury resulted in him losing the job to Kellen Mond. After backing up Mond in 2018, Starkel transferred to Arkansas during the 2019 offseason.

Under Morris: Starkel came in with high hopes and has probably been the best quarterback on the roster for Arkansas this season. His high watermark of the season was a 305-yard, three-touchdown performance in the school’s win over Colorado State, but he followed that up with five interceptions in the team's loss to San Jose State. That was just the start of the struggles for Starkel as he would go 24-of-55 for 208 yards and four interceptions over his next three appearances.

As a recruit: One of the biggest recruiting wins in the brief Morris era, Jefferson chose the Razorbacks over Missouri and Texas A&M and stuck with the school despite late interest from several other programs.

Under Morris: Jefferson was supposed to be Morris’ quarterback of the future, but he appeared hesitant to play him in 2019, even when it was clear the school’s season was off the rails. Jefferson saw his first action against Mississippi State in garbage time and rushed for 26 yards and a touchdown while also passing for 32 yards. He saw his next action in relief of Jones against Western Kentucky and ran for 32 more yards and a score while completing 6-of-15 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown.