Yes, Cole Kelley fits a Chad Morris offense at Arkansas
SEC Country reporter Eric W. Bolin will candidly answer your Arkansas Razorbacks sports queries each weekday in our Mailbag Question of the Day. Join the conversation by sending your questions via Twitter to @SECCountryHogs or by email to Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not only do I want to answer this question, a part of me feels like I must answer. There are so many misconceptions about what a Chad Morris Offense is. Side note, for the record: Joe Craddock is the offensive coordinator. Seems like he hasn’t been getting nearly enough attention as such in the last week-plus.
But, let’s be real here. How many of us actually watched more than one or two SMU football games over the last three years? Now, how many of us actually watched more than one or two Clemson football games when Morris was there?
The difference between those two camps is huge. As such, the people who watched Morris at Clemson saw him coach quarterback Deshaun Watson. And that’s great, really. But what people forget, I think, is that Morris was only Watson’s coach for one season. In that season, Watson ran for 200 yards on 63 carries. It wasn’t until after Morris left, when Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott became co-offensive coordinators with the Tigers, that Watson exploded as a runner (1,105 yards rushing in 2015, 629 in 2016).
Morris had Matt Davis in his first year at SMU, and he was definitely a dual-threat with 761 yards on 187 carries. But SMU won two games that season, and Davis was not the starter in Morris’ second year. That year, and this past year, he had Ben Hicks. Hicks’ numbers in two seasons of a Chad Morris offense: 88 carries for negative-4 yards. By the way, those seasons with Hicks at the helm saw SMU win five and seven games, up from those two wins Morris and the Mustangs accomplished with the dual-threat quarterback.
It all leads us back around to the crux of the question. But the counter-question is more important to me.
Where has Razorbacks Nation’s faith gone in Cole Kelley?
When he was winning football games in Austin Allen’s stead, he was heralded as the future, or as our podcaster and resident Hogs fan John Nabors called him, “The Franchise.” Kelley’s arm strength is impressive. His ability to make plays with his feet, even with his 6-foot-7 and 268-pound frame, is as well. Sure, his decision-making needs work and he needs more touch. And I’m the first to say he didn’t wow me with his play in the four starts he made in 2017.
But it’s not like Kelley was bad. The question is begged, too, at least in 2018, the alternative. Kelley is the only quarterback on the roster with significant experience. Ty Storey is pegged as the No. 2 right now behind him. No one else has any experience at all. Daulton Hyatt, who redshirted last year, would be expected to be up on the two walk-ons, Jack Lindsey and Carson Proctor. That’s it, though. Those are the five. Connor Noland, the Class of 2018 quarterback from Greenwood, is a 4-star and headed to Arkansas. Well, if he doesn’t turn pro for baseball this summer.
What the excited seem to be banking on is Morris landing the commitment of in-state 4-star dual-threat quarterback Gerry Bohanon Jr. from Earle High. Bohanon has offers from LSU and Alabama, which lead a fan base to believe he can be a sort of immediate savior. Perhaps. It’s also incredibly rare that a freshman from a Class 2A high school in the state of Arkansas comes right into the SEC and starts, nevermind enters and leads his team to magical things. Certainly it’s happened. Just rare.
In the meantime, remember Kelley. His off-field transgressions notwithstanding (I wrote how he would not play for me anymore in 2017 if I were the coach, but that’s just me), his on-field work speaks for itself. Kelley shows the makings of being a wholly competent, if not all-conference, SEC quarterback.
All these things with Chad Morris and, to a lesser extent because of less experience, Joe Craddock, show me they don’t need a dual-threat quarterback. Morris and Craddock are sharp enough to mold their offense to their personnel. Not change it completely, but they’re also not going to try to fit a square peg into a round hole.
And for an offense that has finished in the top 25 in the nation in passing five of Morris’ eight seasons as a Division I football coach, Kelley is not a square peg. He is a quarterback who does, believe it or not, fit a Morris/Craddock offense.
For answers to prior Arkansas Razorbacks Questions of the Day, click here.