This is not only the first ever head to head meeting between the two schools, but also the first time ever Portland State will face a SEC opponent.
As the Arkansas Razorbacks prepare for their second season under coach Chad Morris, the question on the mind of Razorback fans everywhere was who would take the first snaps under center against Portland State, Ben Hicks or Nick Starkel. In the end, Hicks, who played under Morris with the SMU Mustangs, beat out the Texas A&M Aggies transfer to win the job. Hicks should be an upgrade on the departed duo of Cole Kelley and Ty Storey, who combined for only a fraction more than 2,000 passing yards in 2018, while Hicks threw for over 3,500 on his own under Morris in 2017. If Hicks can repeat that performance or come close to doing so, Arkansas should be able to improve on their 2-10 (0-8 SEC) record from 2018.
While Hicks and a bevy of highly rated freshman receiving targets including Treylon Burks and Trey Knox (who is still questionable for Week 1) should make the passing game a lot better, it is still the rushing attack that will be the strength of the Razorbacks offense. With Portland State giving up almost 200 rushing yards per game last season and 5.3 yards per carry, Rakeem Boyd and Devwah Whaley should be able to consistently put Arkansas ahead of the chains. This will be key for the Razorbacks, as if they can do that, things should open up for Hicks and allow him the time and space to make big plays through the air.
The Vikings, who finished 4-7 last year, including a 3-5 record in the Big Sky and two blowout losses at Nevada and Oregon, struggled on defense throughout the 2018 season, finishing 10th in the Big Sky in scoring defense, giving up 36.2 points per game. They return 8 starters, but lose their top 2 linebackers from last season, leaving a big hole in the middle of their defense.
On the defensive side of the ball, Arkansas will be looking to dominate in the trenches, led by McTelvin Agim, who recorded 4.5 sacks last season, tops among all returning players on the team. If Agim and the rest of the defensive line can’t create pressure, they will force the rest of their teammates to contain one of the best players in the FCS. Senior tight end Charlie Taumoepeau is not only the preseason offensive player of the year in the Big Sky, but was named a 1st team FCS All-American by multiple outlets and is on the 25-man Walter Payton award watch list.
If Taumoepeau and junior starting quarterback Davis Alexander can build a good rhythm early, it could be trouble for Arkansas. Lucky for Arkansas, they have a superstar of their own in 2x All-SEC linebacker De’Jon Harris. The senior star is coming off of a 118 tackle season, which included 7 tackles for loss and 5 pass break ups. Look for safety Kamren Curl and corner Jarques McClellion to make big plays in the secondary as Portland State’s inability to run the ball and a likely big deficit will force them to air the ball out as the game wears on.
Arkansas should have no problem controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and coupling that with the Hogs advantage in talent, it’s hard to see this game being anything but a rout in favor of the Razorbacks.
Prediction: Arkansas wins 59-17