As KJ Jefferson Joins Exclusive All-Time Club, a Prop Bet Outlier Rises to Recepient of Big Props

KJ Jefferson, Arkansas football, Arkansas vs Western Carolina
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

LITTLE ROCK — Those concerned about Arkansas football’s overhauled receiving corps and new offensive scheme may have forgotten the most important aspect of its passing game: KJ Jefferson.

Even with all of the new pieces around him, the fifth-year senior quarterback was a steady presence for the Razorbacks this offseason and reminded everyone why he was a preseason All-SEC selection in their 56-13 blowout win over Western Carolina on Saturday.

Of course, the Catamounts are an FCS team and nowhere near as talented as what he’ll face in a few weeks when Arkansas opens SEC play, but head coach Sam Pittman left War Memorial Stadium more than happy with Jefferson’s performance.

“What was he, 18 of 23? Yeah, he has to get better than that,” Pittman said with a smile.

That works out to a 78.3% completion percentage and helped him rack up 246 yards and three touchdowns through the air, carrying an offense that struggled to get things going on the ground.

Arkansas really leaned on Jefferson early and he delivered by completing his first 12 passes of the game. It wasn’t until he slightly sailed a throw to Andrew Armstrong, causing him to come down with it out of bounds, that he had an incompletion.

It was an encouraging sign for the Razorbacks because they’ve developed a reputation over the last couple of years of starting slow against inferior opponents. That was a major emphasis for them this week and new offensive coordinator Dan Enos played a role in getting it done.

“Coach Enos is real big on getting his quarterbacks in a rhythm early,” Jefferson said. “So once you get in a rhythm early, everything is so much more smooth and you know how the game’s going to play out and everybody on the offensive side is feeling good and in good spirits.”

His 246-yard performance moved him past both Casey Dick and Matt Jones on the UA’s all-time passing list and pushed him over 6,000 yards in his career. Only Tyler Wilson, Ryan Mallett, Brandon Allen and Clint Stoerner have thrown for more yards at Arkansas.

KJ Jefferson’s 1st Game with Dan Enos

Not only did KJ Jefferson complete his first 12 passes, but the first seven went to seven different pass catchers. The even distribution was a little bit by design in an effort to get everyone involved.

“I think it just played out,” Pittman said. “Man, our guys catch the ball well. I mean, they do in practice. I just think Dan was trying to target some different guys, trying to get everybody in the game and KJ hit them.”

That’s also why Jefferson, who is known for his dual-threat ability, didn’t factor as much into the run game. He officially finished with five carries for 11 yards, but that includes a 13-yard sack. On four true run plays, he had 24 yards.

Most of that came on a 17-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, when he and Dominique Johnson nearly got tangled up on an RPO before he went untouched up the middle and into the end zone.

“Dominique didn’t want to let the ball go,” Jefferson said. “I had to snatch it from him because I knew he was going to get hit… It was just me and Dom back there fighting with the ball. The o-line blocked it well and it was a big hole and I just had to take it in.”

Pittman even admitted in the postgame that they knew going into the game that Jefferson wouldn’t run much because they wanted to test the new receivers. It also gave the quarterback a chance to work out any potential issues with gameday communication.

“I knew how he was going to call the game, and me and him communicated on the sideline on the headsets,” Jefferson said. “I’m telling him what I see from an on-the-field standpoint and he’s telling me what he sees from up in the box. I felt like it was great communication between the two of us and we were on the same page.”

Despite not seeing much of the running aspect of his game Saturday, Western Carolina head coach Kerwin Bell — a former All-SEC quarterback at Florida — came away thoroughly impressed with Jefferson, calling him an “all-star quarterback” who will always give Arkansas a chance this season.

“I thought he was phenomenal,” Bell said. “I didn’t know he threw it as well as he did. Just seeing him in person, he’s a big-bodied kid.”

Surprising 1st Touchdown for Arkansas

If a sportsbook had offered a prop bet on who would score the first touchdown of the season for Arkansas, there’s a chance Jaedon Wilson wouldn’t have even been on the board. In fact, HawgSports posed that question in a poll earlier in the week and listed 10 different players — none of which were Wilson.

Throw in the fact that he’s been dealing with a shoulder injury and was still in a green non-contact jersey as of Tuesday’s practice viewing period and it was unknown how much he’d even play against Western Carolina.

That’s what made the Razorbacks’ second offensive play of the season so shocking, as he caught a screen pass from KJ Jefferson and then took it 65 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.

“I want to give a big shoutout to my man Isaac TeSlaa,” Wilson said. “Without him, that play wouldn’t have happened. He made a good block out there on the edge, and I just got around and saw green grass and hit it full speed.”

Wilson ended up catching two more passes and finishing with a team-high 83 yards, showing why Sam Pittman had praised him so much throughout fall camp.

“He’s come a long way,” Jefferson said. “Battling with injuries and adversity, I mean, he’s always been there working. Put his head down working and always giving the young guys advice, as well, just telling them, ‘Be patient, your time is coming.’ For him, his opportunity came today and he took full advantage of his opportunity.”

Transfers Shine in Arkansas Football Debuts

The other two go-to targets for KJ Jefferson were players Arkansas added out of the transfer portal and from lower levels of college football.

Isaac TeSlaa came to Fayetteville from Division II Hillsdale College, while Andrew Armstrong joined the Razorbacks from Texas A&M-Commerce, a former Division II school that moved up to the FCS last year.

They had already established themselves as starters during the preseason, but there were still concerns about them making the jump up in competition. Granted it was against an FCS team in Western Carolina, they somewhat calmed those concerns with big performances Saturday.

Armstrong caught a team-high five passes for 78 yards, while TeSlaa made three receptions for 66 yards. Both of them found the end zone, as well.

“What is today? Well today is to see a little bit where you’re at but don’t get too excited about (it),” Pittman said. “Today’s about building confidence in the team and confidence in yourself but more importantly confidence in your teammate. The team already had it, but to go show it on a Saturday, I think that helps everybody.”

Second Team Finds the End Zone

It wasn’t until early in the fourth quarter, but Arkansas eventually turned things over to the second-team offense when the game was in hand.

That meant North Carolina transfer Jacolby Criswell made his debut with the Razorbacks. The Morrilton native promptly led them on a seven-play, 48-yard drive capped by a 14-yard touchdown pass to freshman Davion Dozier.

“It was going to the left and that wasn’t an easy throw,” Pittman said. “That was so awesome — I mean, the young kid being able to score a touchdown. But (Criswell) threw a dart out there. It’s huge for us to have two, maybe three really, really good quarterbacks.”


Watch Sam Pittman’s full press conference after Arkansas football’s dominant win over Western Carolina:

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