FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas cornerback Ryan Pulley jammed the Texas State wide receiver, ran with him step-for-step, jumped in front of an ill-advised pass to make an interception and then raced 25 yards to the end zone.
Pulley’s pick-6 was one of many highlights for the Razorbacks in a 42-3 rout of the Bobcats on Saturday night. The sophomore was so excited he kept running out of the back of the end zone and might have continued all the way to Maple Street just north of Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium if he had an open tunnel.
“That’s my first pick-6,” Pulley said. “I had to celebrate some kind of way.”
There’s plenty of reason to be excited about Pulley’s play the past two weeks since he was thrust into the starting lineup starting lineup after Kevin Richardson II suffered a season-ending injury in the opener against Louisiana Tech. The secondary had also become thin during fall camp with Britto Tutt tearing an ACL and D.J. Dean, who is now healthy, missing time with a hamstring injury.
“I had to step up the way our secondary was falling apart with injuries,” Pulley said. “Something just clicked in my head that I’ve got to do something to help this team, so I’ve just stepped up.”
Pulley’s pick-six and 3-tackle performance against Texas State followed an impressive showing against TCU’s potent air attack with 4 tackles and 3 pass breakups a week earlier.
“I’ve just gone in every week focused,” Pulley said. “I’ve never been so focused in my life. I was hitting the film room, listening to everything. I’m so intent. I just got to do what I’ve got to do.
“That was one of my weaknesses when I first got here. I wasn’t really a practice player. Coach kept hitting on me every week to become the player I am and I just practiced hard from them on.”
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema wasn’t surprised by Pulley’s big play Saturday.
“Ryan is a very athletic corner, a very gifted corner, but he’s got really good ball skills,” Bielema said. “He probably leads our team in interceptions in practice as well. He just has a way of finding the football.”
Here’s why Pulley’s play is so crucial for Arkansas: Pass defense was widely considered one of the Razorbacks’ biggest weaknesses entering the season. The Razorbacks were last in the SEC in passing yards allowed per game last season. And worry only grew among the fans, and likely the coaching staff, as the injuries began to mount. But Pulley’s sudden emergence has helped alleviate much of the concern.
He’ll need to remain a consistent force in coverage as opponents continue to throw to his side of the field and away from standout senior cornerback Jared Collins, who has rarely been targeted this season. Pulley won’t have to wait long for his next challenge with Arkansas set to open SEC play against Texas A&M on Saturday.
Aggies wide receivers Josh Reynolds and Christian Kirk, who both had more than 100 yards receiving in Texas A&M’s win over the Hogs last season, are going to provide Arkansas’ secondary with its most difficult test to date this season.