FAYETTEVILLE — When Kent State found itself in a first-and-goal at the 2, nothing was at stake for Arkansas football except pride.
A touchdown wouldn’t have changed the result or even impacted the point spread, but the Razorbacks wanted to keep the Golden Flashes out of the end zone — and they did just that, preserving a 28-6 final margin inside Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
“I thought it was unbelievable,” head coach Sam Pittman said. “The outcome of the game was going to be we were going to win whether they did or not, but it showed a little bit. I was really excited for the kids in the locker room.”
The series was set up by a perfect 36-yard throw by Michael Alaimo to Trell Harris with Kee’yon Stewart in coverage. After limiting Kent State to a pair of field goals, it seemed as though Arkansas would finally surrender a touchdown.
The Razorbacks swarmed Jaylen Thomas on first down, with Taurean Carter and Hudson Clark being credited for the tackle after just a 1-yard gain. On the next play, Chris Paul Jr. — who was suspended the first half because of a targeting penalty against Western Carolina — flew in and hit Thomas behind the line of scrimmage, dropping him for what was officially credited as a run for no gain.
“He was ready,” fellow linebacker Jaheim Thomas said. “He had sat down all first half, so he kept telling me when he gets in he’s gonna make a play, he’s gonna make a play, and when opportunity came for him, he capitalized on it.”
Alaimo bobbled a high snap on third down, but still nearly scrambled up the middle for a touchdown, only for Antonio Grier and Cam Ball to drop him just shy of the goal line.
On fourth down, Landon Jackson blew past the left tackle with an inside move and greeted Gavin Garcia four yards behind the line of scrimmage. He had the running back wrapped up, but Trajan Jeffcoat finished him off and the pair split the tackle for loss.
“It was great physical defense,” Jeffcoat said. “It’s who we stand for and we came together as a defense. We already knew what the situation was and then we just triumphed.”
Granted it hasn’t been against the best competition, but Arkansas has allowed only one touchdown through the first two games of the season — something only eight other FBS teams can say.
Western Carolina and Kent State scored just 19 combined points, which is an average of 9.5 per game. That’s good for 14th nationally.
Dwight McGlothern Injury
Making the defensive performance Saturday even more impressive is the fact that Arkansas was without its preseason All-SEC cornerback, as Dwight McGlothern played just one snap because of a turf toe injury.
He started the game, but was replaced by Kee’yon Stewart after the first play.
“We were checking him out before the game and he didn’t move very well,” Sam Pittman said. “Then we put him out there the first play and he didn’t move very well, so we put Stewart out there.”
It was Stewart’s first action with the Razorbacks because he was suspended for the opener after getting arrested for driving 126 mph on the interstate a day earlier.
The TCU transfer was officially credited with one tackle, but according to Pro Football Focus, he was targeted twice and gave up a reception both times. Those plays totaled 52 yards — roughly 30% of Kent State’s passing yardage.
“I thought (Stewart) played pretty good,” Pittman said. “That was a hell of a pass that the kid made there at the end, but I thought he had a pretty good game.”
With the offense sputtering to open the game, it was the defense that actually got Arkansas football on the board first Saturday afternoon.
On his first career snap with the Razorbacks, linebacker Antonio Grier jumped up and snagged Michael Alaimo’s pass at the line of scrimmage and returned it 25 yards for a pick six. The play put Arkansas up 7-3 late in the first quarter.
Even though he dressed out last week, the South Florida transfer didn’t play against Western Carolina because of an injury that caused him to miss time in fall camp. His availability against Kent State became even more key because Chris Paul Jr. was suspended the first half because of a targeting penalty.
“Pretty good way to start isn’t it?” Pittman said with a smile. “I don’t think he’s 100% to be honest with you, but we needed him to play with Pooh being out, too, in the first half, so I think Grier will end up being better against the run and things of that nature.”
Pittman added that Grier is one of several linebackers vying for the second starting spot alongside Jaheim Thomas. Sophomore Jordan Crook started last week and freshman Brad Spence got the nod Saturday.
Spence had a pick-six of his own in the opener, returning an interception 85 yards for a score. It’s the first time the Razorbacks have had a pick-six in back-to-back games since 2016, when Brooks Ellis had one against TCU and Ryan Pulley had one the following week against Texas State.
Arkansas is one of four schools with multiple interceptions returned for touchdowns so far this season, with the others being Syracuse, UMass and Utah State. Its 2.5 interceptions per game is tied with UCLA for second nationally, behind only Liberty (3.5).
Bringing the Pressure
After notching only two sacks last week against Western Carolina, Arkansas dialed up more pressure this week. The Razorbacks finished with seven sacks against Kent State, with four of them coming on third down.
Throw in four other tackles behind the line of scrimmage and Arkansas had 11 tackles for loss. It’s the second straight game it has reached double digits in that statistic. That’s especially impressive considering they had at least 10 TFLs in a game just twice in the previous six seasons combined.
It’s the first time since 2006 that Arkansas has had back-to-back such performances. That defense was led by a future NFL Draft Top 10 pick in Jamaal Anderson and helped the Razorbacks win the SEC West.
Through two games, defensive coordinator Travis Williams’ unit is tied for third nationally in tackles for loss per game (10.5) and tied for fifth in sacks per game (5.5).
According to Sports Reference, the only other school with at least 21 tackles for loss, nine sacks and five interceptions through the first two games of a season since 2000 was Rutgers in 2011.
Attendance for Arkansas vs Kent State
The announced attendance for Saturday’s game in Fayetteville was 73,173, which is actually a larger number than the final home game of 2022. The Ole Miss game on Nov. 19 had an attendance of 71,365.
It’s the seventh straight game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium that has drawn at least 70,000 fans. That streak started with the opener against Cincinnati last season.
Arkansas Roster Check
For its first game in Fayetteville this season, Arkansas dressed 111 players. Among those not suited up were 10 scholarship players dealing with injuries.
The most notable of that group was running back Rocket Sanders, who suffered a knee injury in the opener against Western Carolina. Sam Pittman told reporters that he has some swelling and didn’t have a timeline for his return, but did reveal during his radio show Wednesday night that he wouldn’t be available against Kent State.
Two previously unknown injuries were to offensive lineman Josh Street and defensive tackle Marcus Miller. Street is listed as the backup left guard, but Miller is not on the depth chart.
The others include cornerback Quincey McAdoo (neck), wide receiver Sam Mbake (knee) and offensive lineman Terry Well (torn pec) who are out for the season, as well as defensive backs Malik Chavis and Dallas Young, offensive lineman Luke Brown and defensive end Quincy Rhodes Jr.
Rhodes is believed to be dealing with a concussion suffered late in the win over Western Carolina and Chavis is dealing with a hand/wrist injury. The others are undisclosed.
Up Next for Arkansas Football
Before the Razorbacks hit the road for four straight games, they’ll be back in Reynolds Razorback Stadium next Saturday for a non-conference matchup with BYU.
It’s the return game of a home-and-home, as Arkansas beat the Cougars 52-35 in Provo, Utah, last season behind 175 rushing yards from Rocket Sanders and 399 total yards from KJ Jefferson.
BYU is in its first season as a member of the Big 12 and will come to Fayetteville with a 2-0 record. They scraped by with a 14-0 win over first-year FBS member Sam Houston to open the season and then pulled away for a dominant 41-16 win over FCS Southern Utah on Saturday.
Arkansas vs Kent State Highlights
Hear what Arkansas defenders Trajan Jeffcoat and Jaheim Thomas said about Saturday’s win over Kent State:
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