FAYETTEVILLE — KJ Jefferson’s availability is once again up in the air ahead of Arkansas football’s showdown with No. 7 LSU on Saturday.
The Razorbacks’ star quarterback was clearly not himself in last week’s loss to Liberty, when he played through a lingering shoulder injury that head coach Sam Pittman later described as a clavicle bruise.
Pittman revealed Wednesday that he was a game-time decision for that matchup after getting a steroid shot during the week and, despite his earlier optimism, said he’s unsure of his status for the Battle for the Golden Boot.
“Obviously if he can throw today then we’ll throw him a little bit more; if he can’t, we won’t,” Pittman said. “It’s bothering him. He wants to be ready, he wants to play. He wants to practice because he understands that he needs to practice to play well. I think we’ll just have to wait and see at practice today and see how he feels.”
When he met with reporters Monday, Pittman said Jefferson was already feeling better than he had the previous week. That was seemingly backed up by the fact he was throwing passes during the short media viewing period at practice that afternoon — which wasn’t the case the last Monday.
However, the next day, he was sore and once again very limited at practice, with Pittman revealing during the weekly SEC coaches teleconference Wednesday morning that he threw “not much at all.”
“That was all about how he felt,” Pittman said. “I thought that he felt much better early in the week than what he had. Threw a little bit on Monday, didn’t set so well on Tuesday. Not a lot, but he threw certainly more than he did a week ago.”
It’s still a “fluid situation,” Pittman said before Wednesday’s practice. The Razorbacks are still trying to sort through whether or not he’ll be able to start or play at all on Saturday.
“(Last week) we felt like he was going to play if he could throw,” Pittman said. “I think this one here you add into, ‘Are we going to play him at all, or are we going to start him or are we going to you know just wait and see on game day and then make that decision.’ I don’t know. I’m hoping I can find out a little bit more at today’s practice.”
Contingency Plan Without KJ Jefferson
Sam Pittman went so far as to say the Razorbacks were preparing as if their quarterbacks would be Malik Hornsby and Cade Fortin while waiting to see how KJ Jefferson feels in the coming days.
After the way Jefferson played last week, Pittman received quite a bit of criticism for going with him the entire game against Liberty, especially after wide receiver Jadon Haselwood said during the postgame that it was Hornsby who took most of the first-team snaps at practice that week.
Considering how that went, with Arkansas managing just three points on its first 11 drives (a field goal made possible by a penalty), it sounds as though the Razorbacks might be more open to taking a chance at quarterback if Jefferson isn’t able to participate more in practice. Pittman even said Hornsby has “proven” he deserves a shot if that’s the case.
“Malik practiced well last week and has practiced well this week,” Pittman said. “We certainly have belief that we can have Malik in there and we can go win the game with him. We do. So we’ve got to take all of those factors in and see where we go after today (and) tomorrow.”
Pittman added that the team was confident in Hornsby, as well, and believes he can execute the game plan — even if it may look a little different than when Jefferson is in the game.
“We’re very confident with him running all of it,” Pittman said. “I do think obviously he has a lot of similar skill sets as KJ and then some different. So certainly if he’s the quarterback on Saturday, we would have a few different plays for his skill set than possibly what KJ’s is. We’re prepared for a couple of similar but yet different game plans if that makes sense.”
Other Arkansas Football Injury Updates
The only player in the Arkansas two-deep who missed the Liberty game with something other than a season-ending injury was tight end Nathan Bax.
His absence was due to an undisclosed injury suffered at practice last Wednesday. That allowed redshirt junior Hudson Henry to get the second-team reps behind Trey Knox and he even caught a pass for 9 yards. However, Bax — who dressed out and went through pregame warmups last Saturday — is expected to return this week.
Another injury to keep an eye on is to starting right tackle Dalton Wagner. He missed the first two practices this week, but Pittman said he should be back Wednesday, which would mean he could play Saturday.
It’s unknown what he’s dealing with, but a nagging back injury led to Pittman speculating before the season that he wouldn’t be able to play every snap. The sixth-year super senior has mostly proven that wrong, playing 97.9% of the Razorbacks’ offensive snaps through nine games.
If he can’t play, junior Ty’Kieast Crawford — a former four-star recruit who transferred in from Charlotte before last season — would fill in. Pittman has been high on him since his arrival, but he hasn’t had much of a chance to play.
“You’ve got a guy ready sitting there, (but) in front of him is Dalton, who we know is a good player and knows what he’s doing and all those things,” Pittman said. “Ty’Kieast really hasn’t had all that many opportunities because of that. Again, I’ve talked about him ever since fall camp. I think he’ll be a fine player for us in the future, and if we go with him on Saturday, I think he’ll do a great job.”
Pittman also gave an update on injured defensive tackle Taurean Carter, who’s been out since hurting his knee in the Spring Showcase. Unfortunately for Arkansas, that meant pushing the timeline of his potential return back at least one week.
A few weeks ago, he was hopeful that Carter — arguably the Razorbacks’ spring MVP — might be able to work his way back in time for the penultimate game of the regular season, next week against Ole Miss, but now the earliest he might return is for the finale against Missouri.
“If we can get another game and get bowl eligible, I’m positive that he would be ready for that bowl game,” Pittman said. “My hope was that he might be ready for Ole Miss, and then Missouri, and then hopefully we get to 6, 7, 8 (wins) and go to a bowl game. But I felt always that he’d be ready for the bowl, hoping (for) Ole Miss.”
Something Arkansas would have to consider at that point is the fact that playing in only one or two games would burn a year of eligibility. Carter already used his traditional redshirt back in 2019, but could receive a medical redshirt if he doesn’t play at all this season.
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