By Nate Allen
Special to the News-Times
FAYETTEVILLE - An Arkansas Razorbacks team not yet sure of its caliber visits the Colorado State University Rams, who know they ought to be better than they've played so far.
The 1-0 Razorbacks of the SEC and 0-2 Rams of the Mountain West clash at 6:30 CDT tonight on CBS Sports Network at CSU's Canvas Stadium in Fort Collins, Colo.
Coming off a 7-6 2017 campaign and generally projected in 2018 to place third in the Mountain West's Mountain Division, coach Mike Bobo's Rams opened on Aug. 25 as the favorite, losing 45-34 to Mountain West West division member Hawaii, then on Aug. 31 in Denver, lost 45-13 to the Colorado Buffaloes of the Pac 12.
Arkansas first-year coach Chad Morris knows that Bobo, who has recovered from an illness that hospitalized him during the August preseason, is too good a coach to stand for the Rams' performances so far without demanding and exacting improvement.
They twice have coached on opposite staffs when Morris coordinated Dabo Swinney's offense at Clemson and Bobo coordinated the offense for former Georgia coach Mark Richt.
Defense has been CSU's major problem thus far, but Morris believes Bobo will extend his influence to both sides of the ball.
"I’ve known coach Bobo for a while," Morris said. "He’ll have his team ready to go. He’s an outstanding football coach. They’re going to go back to basics."
The Rams offensively produced a major comeback against Hawaii (537 passing yards) and threw for 181 against Colorado.
"Coach Bobo has coached some phenomenal quarterbacks and receivers in his time," Morris said.
That time includes now.
Quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels has completed 52-of-83 passes for 713 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions for two games. Receivers Preston Williams and Olabisi Johnson have caught 15 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns and 12 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns, respectively.
"We've got our work cut out for us," Morris said. "Carta-Samuels is very talented. He’s a really good player.
"He’s accurate, especially in the Hawaii game where he broke a school record with right at 540 yards passing — this guy is a winner. He’s doing his part and wants to get this team back. He’s got some very talented receivers in Preston Williams and the Johnson kid that he can get the ball to."
Although forcing six fumbles and recovering a phenomenal five in last Saturday's 55-20 victory over lower division (FCS) Eastern Illinois last Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, the Razorbacks were burned on two deep touchdown passes and also were vulnerable to EIU screen passes.
Morris anticipates more screens Saturday.
"The screen game’s going to continue to show up until we stop it," Morris said. "We know we’re going to get plenty of that this week again, especially in some third-and-long situations."
Arkansas prevailed passing with quarterbacks Ty Storey (12-of-17 for 261 yards) and Cole Kelley (9-of-12 for 92 yards) combining to be 21-of-29 for 353 yards with four touchdowns and zero turnovers.
However they ran into trouble.
Against EIU, the Razorbacks mustered but 80 net rushing yards on 37 carries.
Given the Hogs’ inability to run the football last week and the Rams' inability to stop the run (457 rushing yards allowed for two games) somebody will be on the run for the better Saturday.
It had better be his Hogs, Morris asserts.
They felt their lack of a running game even while celebrating a 35-point victory last Saturday.
"The guys saw it and they knew when they walked off the field on Saturday," Morris said. "If we want to get this program to the point we want to, we have to be able to run the football effectively. That's the challenge to the guys up front to set the tone."
It appears that sophomore Ty Clary or Star City junior Austin Capps will be at left guard, and either redshirt freshman Dalton Wagner or true freshman Noah Gatlin of Jonesboro at left tackle will get their first starts at making a difference from the outset.
True freshman Bumper Pool in place of injured senior Dre Greenlaw at weakside linebacker is expected to draw his first Razorbacks start.
Morris said the Hogs have been hydrating with an emphasis since the beginning of the week due to Fort Collins' nearly mile high air.
The Hogs do hope the Fort Collins thin air benefits Arkansas punter Blake Johnson, two good punts and two poor ones against EIU, Morris said, and Reid Bauer, a 25-yard punt for his lone kick.
"I was very disappointed in our punt game," Morris said. "That's an area we have to hit head on and figure out what's up."