NCAA football: Florida Atlantic 35-24 over Western Kentucky

Western Kentucky quarterback Ty Storey throws a pass Saturday during Florida Atlantic’s 35-24 win at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

Ty Storey’s elephant has entered the room.

His return to Arkansas isn’t serving as just a homecoming to play an hour from his hometown, it’s a visit to play against the very program he was leading just over a year ago.

Western Kentucky’s quarterback is plenty familiar with the setting of DWR Razorback Stadium, but he’ll be on the opposite sideline as the Hilltoppers play the Arkansas Razorbacks for an 11 a.m. CST kickoff Saturday.

“It’s going to be great to get back to the home state obviously,” Storey said. “It’s a great area and just to be able to go back with these guys and see where I’m from and be able to play those guys, it’s going to be fun.”

Storey joined the Hilltoppers last winter as a graduate transfer from Arkansas. He grew up an hour from Fayetteville in Charleston and was a four-star quarterback who signed to play with the hometown Southeastern Conference team.

Storey’s time came in 2018 and he started nine games in the team’s first season under Chad Morris, throwing for 1,584 yards and 11 touchdowns. When Morris opted to bring in his own graduate transfer in Ben Hicks from Southern Methodist, Storey sought his own way out.

He found a home with Tyson Helton’s Hilltoppers and competed neck and neck with Steven Duncan for the starting quarterback job. Storey got the call when Duncan went down with a foot injury in Week 3. WKU started 4-0 with Storey leading the offense and now the Hilltoppers sit one game away from bowl eligibility with a struggling Razorbacks team awaiting.

“I think it’ll be a special game for him,” Helton said. “He’s from Arkansas and that’s where he played. Former teammates, that’s always a special thing. Once you play the game and a snap or two, you’re focused on the game and doing your job. He’ll be excited for the opportunity to compete against his former team for sure. It’s his home state and he’s very proud to be able to go back and play in front of them.”

Since taking over the offense, Storey has completed 70 percent of his pass attempts for 1,477 yards and seven scores. He’s also been a hard-nosed runner for four rushing touchdowns. Even in a loss to FAU on Saturday, Storey is coming off a career-high 32-of-47 passing for 380 yards. But he was also responsible for four turnovers.

“Obviously we have followed Ty Storey,” Morris said at his Monday news conference. “We’re excited for Ty. Ty has had a really good year and is playing really well. We’re proud for him. He’s tough. He’s gritty. And they are top 25 in time of possession so they do a great job in controlling the ball.”

When Storey announced his decision to transfer to WKU in February, he told the Daily News he didn’t want to go through another tough season while Arkansas was actively pursuing graduate transfer quarterbacks. The Charleston, Ark., native would’ve been a redshirt senior on a team coming off a 2-10 season. Storey picked his home state Razorbacks over offers from Alabama, Auburn and Louisville after throwing for close to 13,000 yards in high school.

“Knowing we weren’t as successful as we thought we would be last year, I thought it might be a good time to start looking around myself,” Storey said back in February. “Thankfully, WKU called and it was just a good fit.”

During his news conference Monday, Morris recounted Storey’s intention to transfer.

“I’m sure Ty is excited about coming back into his home state and playing,” Morris said. “Ty and I met with his family and we did not want Ty to leave. But Ty wanted to go to a place that he wanted to go in and have an opportunity to be the starter and was going to look around and see what was best for him moving forward. He wants to coach and we’ve had a lot of talks on that. We’re just excited for Ty and he’s playing really well.”

Storey said he’s had plenty of texts throughout the week about his return and is looking forward to reconnecting with old teammates. He also added he’s more unfamiliar with the Razorbacks’ current roster since Morris is playing many freshmen and sophomores.

But the quarterback wants to make clear his focus isn’t a homecoming where he’s expecting many friends and family in the stands. Saturday is about WKU seeking bowl eligibility and the program’s fourth-ever win against an SEC team.

“We have to get a win,” Storey said. “These last two weeks have been rough on us and we’ve been in every game fighting to the end and it just hasn’t come our way. We just have to keep grinding and find a way we can.”{&end}

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

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