FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas football made a quarterback change in the second half of Saturday’s ugly loss to Auburn.
With the game already out of hand, head coach Sam Pittman pulled starter KJ Jefferson in favor of backup Jacolby Criswell midway through the third quarter of what proved to be a 48-10 loss to the Tigers inside Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
“We’re down 41-3 and KJ is getting the heck beat out of him back there,” Pittman said about the decision. “Obviously, I wanted to look at Jacolby, and I talked to KJ. … KJ was bloodied up a little bit, and I wanted to see what Jacolby could do.”
Criswell’s first drive went much like many of Jefferson’s, as he had a 6-yard run on second down only to be sacked on third-and-1 for a three-and-out.
However, he did sprint 60 yards through a hole up the middle on the first play of the fourth quarter and then threw a perfect pass to Isaac TeSlaa for an 11-yard touchdown.
“I thought he went in there and played really well,” Pittman said. “I thought he played like what I thought he would, like how he’s been practicing and things of that nature.”
It was the Razorbacks’ first touchdown in Fayetteville since Sept. 16 and it was also their last of the day. Criswell got one more possession after a Jaylon Braxton interception, but he managed only one first down before Arkansas punted it away.
He finished the game 2 of 4 passing for 19 yards and a touchdown, plus added 64 yards on six carries in his first action since the opener against Western Carolina.
Although he admitted to giving Criswell some first-team reps at practice, Pittman said Saturday’s game wouldn’t lead to a quarterback battle heading into the final two games of the season.
“We have given him some looks recently in two-minute and things of that nature, but there isn’t a quarterback controversy in my opinion,” Pittman said.
Another Punt Return TD
For the second time this season, Arkansas gave up a punt return for a touchdown Saturday. This one was a 74-yard return by Keionte Scott that quickly put the Razorbacks in a 14-0 hole.
The first was an 82-yard return by Ainias Smith that was essentially the final nail in the coffin of their 34-22 loss to Texas A&M back on Sept. 30.
“Sometimes we will out-kick our coverage a little bit, but if we out-kick our coverage and get the ball in the middle of the field, we’ve got problems,” Pittman said. “That’s a little bit of what happened this time and the last time. If we can cut it inside the hash, then we can basically take a lot of the field away.”
Arkansas is now one of only five FBS teams to allow multiple punt return touchdowns this season, joining Pittsburgh, BYU, Virginia and UMass. Those have been far from the only plays that have hurt the Razorbacks on that unit this season, though.
Just last week, Florida’s Ricky Pearsall had a 40-yard return that set up the Gators’ second touchdown. Before that, Mississippi State’s Zavion Thomas had a 31-yarder. Smith also had a 43-yarder for the Aggies after his touchdown.
Opponents have now returned 16 punts for an average of 20.9 yards, which ranks next-to-last in the country this season. Only Kansas State allows more at 24.1 yards, but that’s on just seven returns.
The last team to allow that high of an average on double-digit returns was Old Dominion in 2014, which gave up an average of 22.1 yards on 11 returns in its first season at the FBS level.
Injury Report for Arkansas Football
It wasn’t all bad news on the injury front for Arkansas on Saturday, as wide receiver Andrew Armstrong and defensive tackle Anthony Booker Jr. were able to return to action after getting banged up in last week’s game.
Armstrong, who hit his head hard on the turf against Florida, started and caught two passes for 34 yards, while Booker (ankle) came off the bench and made five tackles.
During the game, defensive tackle Keivie Rose and running back Rocket Sanders each left the game with injuries, only to return later. Rose was back within the quarter, while Sanders sat out the end of the first half before coming back out in the third quarter.
Linebacker Antonio Grier and cornerback Jaylon Braxton were shaken up in the fourth quarter and didn’t return. Pittman didn’t have an update on either of them after the game, but Braxton was spotted with ice on his right shoulder after coming down with an interception.
As expected, right tackle Patrick Kutas missed the game with a high ankle sprain that he suffered last week against Florida. In his place, Ty’Kieast Crawford made his second start of the season. That was one of two changes on the offensive line, with the other being Devon Manuel starting at left tackle instead of Andrew Chamblee.
The Razorbacks were also without a pair of key backups, as cornerback Jaheim Singletary and defensive end Jashaud Stewart did not dress out. That’s in addition to other previously known season-ending injuries, such as tight ends Luke Hasz and Ty Washington.
Big Visit Day for Arkansas Recruiting
The Razorbacks welcomed several recruits to Fayetteville for the Arkansas vs Auburn game on Saturday, ranging from high school kids to transfer portal prospects.
Perhaps the most notable visitor was 2024 five-star defensive end Williams Nwaneri, who’s currently committed to Missouri. He made the trip with Lee’s Summit North teammate Isaiah Mozee, a four-star wide receiver and top-100 recruit in the 2025 class who included Arkansas in his top eight on Halloween.
Another big visitor — literally and figuratively — was Michigan State transfer Keyshawn Blackstock. A backup left tackle for the Spartans before entering the portal, he was a heralded JUCO prospect in the 2023 class and now has more than 20 FBS offers as a transfer. Blackstock, a Georgia native, played on an offensive line at Coffeyville C.C. that also featured current Arkansas backup center Amaury Wiggins.
Other Arkansas Football Tidbits
- Cam Little’s 39-yard field goal in the first quarter was the 50th of his career. He is now 50 for 59, improving his school-record accuracy to 84.7%.
- With 50 rushing yards on Saturday, KJ Jefferson now has 1,771 in his career. That moves him past Quinn Grovey for 26th on the UA’s all-time list. The only quarterback ahead of him is Matt Jones (2,535 yards).
- The Razorbacks gave up five more sacks and eight more tackles for loss against Auburn. Their opponents now have 41 sacks and 75 tackles for loss this season — marks that are tied for 128th and 121st, respectively, in the country. No SEC team has allowed more sacks and only South Carolina has given up more TFLs (80).
Hear from Trajan Jeffcoat and Isaac TeSlaa after the Arkansas vs Auburn game:
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