Tuesday, September 13, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> K-Rich’s replacement performs well

Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE - Officially, two tackles comprised Arkansas senior cornerback Jared Collins’ only statistics during the Razorbacks’ 41-38 double overtime victory over the then 15th-ranked TCU Horned Frogs last Saturday night.

Unofficially, says Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, though certainly official in his mind, Collins, of Tulsa greatly impacted the outcome at TCU’s Amon Carter Stadium in Fort Worth.

“He’s playing extremely well,” Bielema said Monday. “They’re not throwing it his way because he’s covering them like a glove and doing really, really well.”

As you would expect, TCU quarterback Kenny Hill attacked sophomore backup become starting cornerback Ryan Pulley of Fort Myers, Fla.

Pulley started at cornerback because against TCU’s Spread offense, starting cornerback Henre Toliver moved to starting nickel back, replacing Kevin Richardson, the junior from Jacksonville lost for the season following surgery to repair pectoral muscles torn during Arkansas’ 21-20 Sept. 3 season-opening victory over Louisiana Tech in Fayetteville.

Pulley responded by breaking up three passes and making four tackles.

“Ryan played really well,” Bielema said.

Albeit a 13-yard touchdown, that was the only catch that TCU receiver Taj Williams caught from Hill against Arkansas after catching 11 for 158 yards the previous week in the Horned Frogs’ 59-41 victory over South Dakota State in Fort Worth.

“Yeah, that guy caught 12 balls the week before if I’m not mistaken,” Bielema said, his offhand memory just one catch off. “I tell you what, Ryan, since he’s got here, is a guy that I’ve said has extreme talents. He’s got long arms. He’s very, very competitive. He laid it all out on the field.”

Pulley literally laid it out on the field cramping up late in the game on a hot night against a hurry-up, no-huddle offense. Arkansas senior middle linebacker Brooks Ellis also was felled by cramps while playing the game of his life, 13 tackles and a 47-yard touchdown return of the Hill pass he intercepted.

“I know the fans over there thought we were laying down on purpose to stop clocks or whatever,” Bielema said. “I mean he was cramping up. He was in full body cramps. He did everything he could.”

TCU fans booed especially vociferously when Ellis cramped late in the game and had to be assisted off the field. The booing galled Bielema and Arkansas linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves.

“I thought it was a very sick moment,” Bielema said. “As Vernon said to me, ‘Yeah, I want Brooks Ellis out of the game. Right, we’re faking an injury. We’re taking what we think may be our best player off the field.’ It makes no sense.”

Of course the TCU fans’ cynicism was fed by how quickly Ellis returned to the fray.

“He got the quickest IV I’ve ever seen in the history of mankind,” Bielema said. “Our doctors should be the SEC doctors of the week. They probably wouldn’t get it, and I’m not going to quit over it.”

That was Bielema’s joking post game Saturday reference that he would “quit” if Arkansas senior punter Toby Baker, five punts of 50 yards plus and the sixth, 37, intentionally bee-lined out of bounds to neutralize outstanding TCU returner Kavontae Turpin.

Baker didn’t get the SEC Special Teams Award. The SEC Office in Birmingham couldn’t let the Hogs hog all the weekly honors with junior quarterback Austin Allen named SEC Offensive Player of the Week and senior left tackle and field goal blocker Dan Skipper named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week.

Back to Pulley and his impact on the Robb Smith coordinated Razorbacks defense.

“He was very emotional after the game to get his first real dose of so much football,” Bielema said. “Him and Robb are very close. Robb recruited him and I know Robb was very proud of him. I think we’re just scratching the surface of what Ryan can be.”

Smith isn’t alone proud of Pulley.

“A lot of guys are really proud of the way Ryan Pulley competed,” Smith said Monday. “That was kind of his first start against a power five school. You guys remember last year we kind of threw him into the fire against Tennessee-Martin.”

Pulley got burned some as though outclassed, 63-28, UTM did total 380 yards passing.

Hill netted 377 yards passing on Arkansas in Fort Worth but needed 56 passes, completing 33, to do it.

“He (Pulley) kind of reminds what a lot of our guys went through,” Smith said. “We took our lumps at times. but it’s all part of the process. He showed up and he competed every snap and he was feeling it (the cramps) at the end of the game but he found a way to compete and help us win a big football game against a ranked opponent on the road.”

Pulley’s progress propels under new defensive backfield coach Paul Rhoads, Smith said.

“That says a lot to what Paul has done with him and the hard work that Ryan has had in the offseason,” Smith said. “The sky is the limit for Ryan.”