NCAA football: Florida Atlantic 35-24 over Western Kentucky

Florida Atlantic quarterback Chris Robison (left) throws a pass before Western Kentucky defensive lineman Juwuan Jones can get to him Saturday during FAU’s 35-24 win at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

A dreadful season for Arkansas has turned into a back-and-forth between quarterbacks that present different skill sets.

The Razorbacks got a glimpse of something positive last week against Mississippi State in KJ Jefferson, but coach Chad Morris said another redshirt freshman, John Stephen Jones, will get the start instead this week.

Jones will be the third quarterback to start for Arkansas this season, though Morris said Jefferson will play against Western Kentucky in Saturday’s 11 a.m. CST kickoff on the SEC Network.

“Actually, got to see both of those guys last week in the second half when they played Mississippi State,” WKU coach Tyson Helton said after Thursday’s practice. “Both guys do a really good job, so they’re going to pose challenges for our defense. They both run really well, they can create plays and got good arm talent. We’ll have a challenge defensively.”

Arkansas (2-7) has used four quarterbacks this season to try and get the SEC’s 11th-ranked offense off and running. Playing in the SEC West Division with the likes of Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M, the Razorbacks have averaged a division-worst 22.7 points a game and 355 yards of offense.

Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel are transfers from Southern Miss and Texas A&M, respectively, who had been the two starting quarterbacks until Jones got the call for this weekend. Starkel has thrown for 1,118 yards and seven touchdowns against 10 interceptions. Hicks has completed 48 percent of his pass attempts for 736 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of picks.

Jones, the grandson of Arkansas alum and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, played in the second half against the Bulldogs last week. Jefferson entered late in the game and led a four-play drive for a touchdown, sparking a positive ending to a 54-24 loss.

“A lot of times a new quarterback brings a spark, so I’m sure they’ll be excited to play for the new guys and try to get something going,” Helton said.

Beyond watching the quarterback shifts, defensive coordinator Clayton White points to Rakeem Boyd as the typical SEC running back that demands attention behind a bigger offensive line.

Boyd is the SEC’s third-leading rusher with 820 yards while averaging 5.7 yards per carry.

“He’s definitely a Southeastern Conference running back,” White said. “That’s how I explain it to our guys. He definitely is a workhorse and a good football player. He’s put in good work.”

WKU’s defense has faced setbacks the last two weeks, allowing more and more points in losses to Marshall and Florida Atlantic. Part of that has to do with weathering adversity during momentum shifts.

Marshall’s offense created two touchdowns out of a pair of WKU turnovers, then the WKU defense couldn’t stop FAU once it forced a turnover and shifted momentum into a 28-point swing.

Knowing Arkansas is leaning on youth in search of any spark in the last game of the year at DWR Razorbacks Stadium, WKU wants to keep Arkansas at bay for four quarters.

“When momentum switches come in the game, you have to put fires out a little bit better,” White said. “We started the game last week really hot and the momentum switched and we didn’t finish the game well at all.

“It’s definitely a talented bunch. The challenge they bring is obviously going to be the size up front. I think our guys are ready to match up against them. We played Louisville this year and they’re a big football team. I feel like our guys have been putting the work in and when there’s plays to be made, let’s make them.”{&end}

– Follow WKU athletics beat writer Elliott Pratt on Twitter @EPrattBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.

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