FAYETTEVILLE — Between being the true freshman replacing injured starting Arkansas cornerback Ryan Pulley and playing the opposite side to avoided senior cornerback Henre Toliver, Kamren Curl seems more targeted than the bull’s eye at a rifle range.
Every opposing offensive coordinator plots their best shots against Arkansas’ rookie cornerback, it seems.
The South Carolina Gamecocks certainly did, Arkansas defensive coordinator/defensive backfield coach Paul Rhoads said in Monday’s aftermath of South Carolina defeating the Hogs 48-22 last Saturday in Columbia, S.C.
Like Arkansas’ defense, allowing just 27 of those South Carolina points since the Gamecocks’ defense directly scored 21 points, Curl of Muskogee, Okla. played better than the final score indicates. Especially with what Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley threw at him and so often.
“Yeah at least 10 if not 11,” Rhoads said of Bentley throwing to receivers covered by Curl. “Depends on how you count an underneath throw in Saturday’s game that he was targeted and I thought he responded just tremendously well.”
Curl broke up three passes and made two tackles.
“He’s an outstanding competitor and he obviously has got good skills and he’s got the size (6-1, 193) that we see,” Rhoads said. “But if you were to take him out there and test him and maybe do a full agility and 40 and do that against some of the guys that he’s covering, I imagine they are probably going to test better than him. But he comes out there and competes and continues to make plays. I think he welcomes the challenge.”
And takes it on head on.
“He’s physical,” Rhoads said. “It’s not just a pass game piece of his game that he’s playing well at. He’s playing well on the run. He came up and made a tackle for a 2-yard game on the edge of our defense that was a very good open field play. He’s smart. He wouldn’t be out there if he wasn’t and knew exactly what needs to take pace in our scheme. He makes very, very few busts as a true freshman cornerback and been a delight to our defense.”
When trying to point to positives off a game that has fans speculating on his job security, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema points to Curl taking up the challenge and opponents avoiding to challenge Solver among them.
“It’s not just that he (Curl) is a freshman playing corner,” Bielema said. “It’s that Henre is playing well across the field that they always go to him. He competed and battled his tail off.”
Including, perhaps even especially, the pass interference called on him in the end zone that Bielema and Rhoads disputed then and still deem a bad call now.
Bielema said it was among the plays he sent for SEC officials to review postgame regarding what they call in the future.
“I sent that play in with the DPI (defensive pass interference), just because I want to see exactly what we can tell him to play better if that is a foul,” Bielema said. “I think the kid’s competing and battling. I like where he’s at.”
So does Rhoads, including, even especially, on that play.
“Yeah, that was a great play by him in the end zone,” Rhoads said. “I wouldn’t instruct him to do it any other way. He made a great play on the ball in a position where the receiver had created an advantage through separation and forced Kam to have to catch up and he made an excellent play on the ball there and I’m proud of his effort on that play.”
Curl and the Razorbacks face one of the greatest receivers in college football, Calvin Ridley, playing for the one of the best teams in college football, defending SEC champion and No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide, at 6:15 p.m. Saturday on ESPN in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
“Calvin Ridley is as good a player as we will see all season long," Rhoads said. “He’s explosive. He’s fast. He’s dynamic. He’s going to carry it and he’s going to catch it. He’s going to catch it vertically. He’s going to catch it underneath. The rest of the receiving corps is equally blessed with talent and ability to get open.”