FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas’ defense will be without its top cornerback when TCU’s high-flying offense rolls into town for Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. contest at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Junior Ryan Pulley, the SEC’s leading returner in pass break-ups from the 2016 season, announced last Friday on social media that he will miss the remainder of the year with a shoulder injury he suffered in the Hogs’ 49-7 win over Florida A&M last Thursday.
With Pulley out of action, the Razorbacks (1-0) will be forced to rely on three players who are low on experience in sophomore Britto Tutt, who redshirted last year while recovering from an ACL tear, and true freshmen Kamren Curl and Chevin Calloway.
Curl replaced Pulley in last week’s game and will get the start against a very fast group of TCU receivers on Saturday.
“Kamren Curl moves into the job just like he did Thursday night,” defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said. “He moves into it right away, but there will be an ongoing competition and a rotation amongst the remaining four corners that play.
“You’ve got (senior starter Henre’) Toliver, Britto, who can play either side, you’ve got Curl, and you’ve got Chevin Calloway. All four of those guys will be in the rotation and will continue to see the field.”
Rhoads knows his young group is in for a challenge, but believes they’re capable of getting the job done against the Horned Frogs (1-0).
“It’s a huge challenge no matter who you’re playing, but TCU certainly compounds that with him,” Rhoads said. “I believe, and I’ve always believed, the further you are away from the football, the easier it is to play at a younger age.
“The reason is, the closer you are to the football, the faster things happen and the harder you get hit in the mouth every single play. When you’re out in space and you can utilize your athletic ability, you have a better chance. I think all of those guys have a big challenge ahead of them this Saturday and beyond.”
Curl, a Muskogee, Okla., native who had multiple big-time scholarship offers as a recruit, impressed the staff early and often in the Razorbacks’ preseason camp.
“He’s a very mature young man,” Rhoads said of Curl. “Along with that maturity comes a seriousness. He’s an intelligent football player. He’s picked up very quickly on what we’re doing and how to accomplish it. He recognizes his strengths and weaknesses and plays to them. He’s a good tackler, he’s a physical player.
“Those things all allowed him to rise to the top. Not that there’s significant separation between him and the next guys, but enough to give him the nod.”
Toliver, a four-year veteran, had a one-on-one talk with Curl the moment Pulley went down in the first half of last week’s game.
“I told Kam, ‘You’re not a freshman anymore,’” Toliver said. “You can’t say ‘oh, I’m a freshman.’ You are a starter on this Razorback defense. There’s no pity, no sympathy. You’ve got to go.”
Curl, Calloway and Tutt will join Toliver and nickel back Kevin Richardson in covering an explosive group of TCU receivers that helped put up 300 yards in the Horned Frogs’ 63-0 season-opening win over Jackson State last Saturday.
“They’re quick and fast. Extremely fast,” Rhoads said of TCU’s skill players. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a football team put the sheer number of guys on the field that can just flat-out fly like I saw with them Saturday night.”
The Arkansas-TCU game will be nationally televised as the Game of the Week on CBS.