It didn’t matter who Alabama lined up across from Landon Jackson on Saturday — the Arkansas captain was going to steal their “milk money.”
That’s how former Arkansas quarterback Quinn Grovey described Jackson’s play on the radio broadcast of the Razorbacks’ 24-21 loss to the No. 11 Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Jackson racked up a team-high 11 tackles, including 3.5 sacks, in one of the more dominant performances by a UA defensive end in recent memory. Trey Flowers was the last Arkansas player with that many sacks in a game, accomplishing the feat against Auburn in 2012, but he had only five total tackles that day.
“He continues to get better each week,” head coach Sam Pittman said. “What a game. Milroe is a hard guy to get on the ground, but we were collapsing the pocket pretty well I thought and not allowing him to take off. He didn’t take off and run on us too much today. I thought Landon played his heart out.”
Alabama has struggled to protect quarterback Jalen Milroe this season and Jackson made it pay for rotating a pair of freshmen — albeit former five-star recruits — at left tackle.
True freshman Kadyn Proctor got the starting nod and gave up his first and final sack of the day. Those plays were sandwiched around a full and half sack Jackson notched against redshirt freshman Elijah Pritchett in the span of three plays at the end of the first half.
Jackson credited two of his sacks to teammate and fellow defensive end Trajan Jeffcoat for his rush lanes not giving Milroe anywhere to run, but it was a pregame message from defensive coordinator Travis Williams that really stuck with Jackson throughout the game.
“Coach T-Will was telling us last night in the hotel and then right before the game, ‘Make them remember your name,’” Jackson said. “That’s what just kept running through my head was, ‘I’ve got to to make them remember my name.’ So every time I had a pass rush I was like, ‘I’ve got to win this rep.’”
Jefferson Pulls Another Houdini
KJ Jefferson did it again.
The fifth-year senior added to his already extensive career highlight reel Saturday night when he somehow escaped from a sack and managed to dump it off to tight end Var’keyes Gumms for a 25-yard gain.
Four plays after Jefferson scrambled for 23 yards, Terrion Arnold came flying in on a cornerback blitz and had a free shot at the 6-foot-3, 247-pound quarterback, seemingly wrapping him up for a 7-yard loss to set up a third-and-17.
“Actually I kind of saw him coming,” Jefferson said. “I thought the running back was going to at least chip him or something. When he did come I just thought ‘I’ve got to make a play. I’ve got to get out of this. I can’t take a sack right now. We’ve got momentum going right now, we’re driving the ball, I can’t take a sack.’”
Instead, Jefferson stayed on his feet, wrestled out of Arnold’s grasp and floated a pass just over the outstretched arms of linebacker Deontae Lawson and into the hands of Gumms, who got the Razorbacks all the way down to the 13.
Three plays later, Rashod Dubinion caught a 14-yard touchdown pass on a wheel route and then Andrew Armstrong stretched across the goal line for a two-point conversion that pulled Arkansas within 24-21 with 10:59 remaining.
“He finally had success, big success, on a run and, for whatever reason, that kind of…gets him motivated,” Pittman said. “Then he was dead to rights on that one, came out of it, made a big play, went down and scored off of it later on.”
Plays like that have almost become the norm for Jefferson.
Two years ago, he spun out of a sack at LSU and found Dominique Johnson wide open for a 49-yard touchdown in a game Arkansas eventually won in overtime. Last season, Jefferson evaded three would-be sacks on the same play before dumping it off to Trey Knox for a big gain.
“That looked like KJ Jefferson,” Dubinion said with a laugh. “He makes one or two of those plays every week.”
Specialists Shine Again
As good as Landon Jackson and KJ Jefferson were, they were arguably outdone by Arkansas’ specialists, as kicker Cam Little and punter Max Fletcher each had big-time performances on Saturday.
Little is the reason the Razorbacks jumped out to an early 6-0 lead. He booted field goals of 55 and 49 yards in the first quarter, continuing what has been an incredible stretch of kicking.
Not only has he made 10 consecutive field goals over the last four games, but Little has now made four kicks of at least 50 yards — all in the last three weeks.
Against Texas A&M, his 52- and 50-yarders made him the first Arkansas kicker with multiple such makes in a game since Steve Little in 1976. He followed that up with a 56-yarder last week at Ole Miss, which is the longest in school history without the aid of a kicking tee and seventh-longest regardless. Saturday’s 55-yarder is tied for eighth on that list.
Little is now 44 of 52 in his career, further improving his school-record 84.6% success rate. That includes being 7 of 10 on attempts of at least 50 yards.
Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, he didn’t get a shot at another one in the closing minutes. They got to their own 46 on their final possession of the day, but Jefferson was sacked on third down and they had to punt it away.
Pittman said the line to reach going that direction was the Alabama 34, which would have given Little a 52-yarder, but he admitted he probably would have given it a shot if they at least got to the 40. Arkansas was within 14 yards of that line — and 20 shy of the ideal line — when the sack happened.
Instead of holding for a field goal, Fletcher had to punt for the seventh time. At 41 yards, it was his shortest of the day. Even with that, he still averaged 53.9 yards, which ranks 10th on the UA single-game list. That means he now owns two of the top-10 spots on that list, because his 54.7-yard average against Texas A&M ranks seventh.
The performance also improved Fletcher’s season average to 48.5 yards, which is more than a yard better than Greg Horne’s school-record 47.2-yard average in 1986.
“He was outstanding,” Pittman said. “I told him on the sideline coming off, I said, ‘You’re the reason we’re in this game. You’re the reason this happened.’ I mean, it is. He flipped the field and man, wasn’t he good? He was. Our specialists are kicking and punting as good as anybody in the country.”
Arkansas Football Injury Report
In a surprising development announced shortly before kickoff, the Razorbacks were without All-SEC running back Rocket Sanders for the fourth time Saturday.
He had played in the last two games after missing three with a knee injury suffered in the season-opener against Western Carolina. Even when he’s been on the field, though, it’s been a disappointing season for Sanders, who has just 91 yards on 34 carries in three games.
“Rocket went to get some more rehab,” Pittman said afterward. “Obviously, he didn’t feel like his knee was 100 percent. So I have no idea when he’ll be back.”
The fact that he’s played in only three games could be significant, as he hasn’t used his redshirt since arriving on campus in 2021 and NCAA rules allow players to appear in four regular-season games without burning the year of eligibility.
The Razorbacks were also without linebacker Chris Paul Jr., defensive tackle Cam Ball, cornerbacks Dwight McGlothern and Jaylon Braxton, and left tackle Devon Manuel — all of whom were starters in the last game they played.
As if the secondary wasn’t already beat up enough, a third cornerback — TCU transfer Kee’yon Stewart — was shaken up and helped off the field during the third quarter.
About the only positive injury news was the fact that safety Alfahiym Walcott was able to play after getting banged up last week at Ole Miss.
It’s also worth noting that quarterback KJ Jefferson had ice on his knee during postgame interviews, but he said it was just precautionary and “nothing major.”
Up Next for Arkansas Football
For the first time since Sept. 16, the Razorbacks will be back home at Reynolds Razorback Stadium next week. They’ll welcome Mississippi State to town for an 11 a.m. kickoff between two of the three SEC West teams that are still winless in conference play — with Auburn, the Razorbacks’ next opponent, being the third.
The Bulldogs were off this weekend, so they’ll get an extra week to prepare for Arkansas. In their last game, they beat Western Michigan 41-28 to improve to 3-3 on the season. That includes an 0-3 mark in SEC play, with losses to LSU, South Carolina and Alabama by an average margin of 19 points.
One of the biggest storylines surrounding Mississippi State right now is the health of quarterback Will Rogers and running back Jo’Quavious Marks, both of whom were injured in last week’s game.
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