KJ Leans a Bit Deion When It Comes to Chippiness, Hogs’ Injury Report + More from Scrimmage

KJ Jefferson, Arkansas football, transfer portal
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

FAYETTEVILLE — He’s been saying for weeks that he felt good about this Arkansas football team, but the confidence really emanated from Sam Pittman following Saturday’s scrimmage.

The fourth-year coach was as loose as he’s been in a long time, joking with reporters and his players in the post-scrimmage interview.

At one point, Pittman was asked a follow-up question about what made defensive end Trajan Jeffcoat a “bad man,” as he described him earlier in the press conference. Rather than just giving an answer, he asked the 6-foot-4, 281-pound Missouri transfer to join him on the podium.

Harkening back to his playing days at Pittsburg State, where he was an NAIA All-American as a senior, Pittman illustrated how much things have changed in 40 years.

“In 1983, this (pointing to himself) is what an All-American defensive end looked like,” Pittman said as they stood side by side. “(In) 2023, this (pointing to Jeffcoat) is what one of them looks like.”

Off camera, Pittman told the story of how one 40-yard dash led to him being moved from strong safety, the position he was recruited for, to defensive end.

Then, as he left the interview room, he knocked on the window and waved at Jeffcoat and quarterback KJ Jefferson as they began taking questions from the media.

Here are a few other takeaways from the action on the field, as told by Pittman and the players. Much like last week, it was a closed scrimmage.

Defense Wins the Day for Arkansas Football

The Razorbacks ran about 140 plays inside Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday, with some traditional move-the-ball segments and some situational work, plus live reps on special teams.

Pittman said the scrimmage started out with “good-on-good,” meaning it was 1s vs. 1s, 2s vs. 2s and 3s vs. 3s, but they also had a first-team offense vs. second-team defense segment and vice versa.

The situational work — which included second-down-play-third, third-down-play-fourth, high red zone, low red zone and get-the-ball-back two-minute drill — was all “good-on-good.”

Although the offense moved the ball some, there weren’t as many big plays as last week and Pittman said it was the defense that had the better day.

“If I’m understanding, you want to know who played well and if there’s a winner and a loser,” Pittman said. “If that was the case and we called it, I’d probably say the defense got the better of the offense. But that’s if we’re looking at 1s, 2s and 3s.”

Defensive tackle Keivie Rose, the transfer from Louisiana Tech, had sacks on back-to-back plays, while defensive back Jaylen Lewis, defensive tackle Taurean Carter and defensive ends Landon Jackson and Zach Williams each had a sack. Jackson and freshman defensive tackle Ian Geffrard each had a tackle for loss, as well.

There were two interceptions, as RJ Johnson and Jayden Johnson each picked off a pass. Jayden Johnson was with the first-team offense when he made his, but a team spokesperson did not reveal who threw it. It was likely either KJ Jefferson or Jacolby Criswell.

Special Teams Provide Pair of Highlights

Two of the biggest plays of the day came in the third phase of the game.

First, the scrimmage opened with a 100-yard kickoff return by Isaiah Sategna. Pittman said it was a live rep, but a team spokesperson clarified that the kickoff — by one of the walk-ons, not Cam Little — went out of bounds and Sategna was handed a ball to return. At that point, it was a normal, live return.

Even with that play, though, the speedy redshirt freshman has not locked down the starting job. He is still competing with AJ Green, Lorando “Snaxx” Johnson and Bryce Stephens.

“It’s still a battle in there,” Pittman said. “I think we’ll decide it some time in the middle of next week. I think we have to because Wednesday we start prep on Western Carolina. We’ll review the tape and go from there. But I can promise you it didn’t hurt him.”

In the kicking game, Little was perfect on his field goal attempts, making kicks of 26, 36 and — the other highlight — 59 yards.

“If you’re anywhere around the 40-yard line, this dude is going to blast it now,” Pittman said. “Today was no different. … I don’t know how long he can kick it from, but I can guarantee he can kick it 60 because he does it every day.”

Emotions Run High

After several days of unseasonably cool weather, the heat has returned to Northwest Arkansas. The Razorbacks practiced as temperatures soared into the 90s, which probably felt even hotter in full pads.

As a result, the emotions ran high during the scrimmage.

“There was a little bit of tempers flaring out there, back and forth,” Pittman said. “We got hot. But when you’re hot, you’ve got to control those things. It was a great learning experience for us today.”

Some coaches, like Colorado’s Deion Sanders, seem to encourage fighting in camp. Just this past week, Sanders upbraided some of his players for walking off the field during a fracas between two Buffaloes.  “If one fights, we all fight,” Sanders fumed. “You understand that? I don’t want to see you all walking off when somebody’s fighting.”

Pittman, like the majority of major college coaches, has always been against such confrontations. 

However, quarterback KJ Jefferson said he kind of liked seeing things get chippy on Saturday.

“I love it, actually. I love it because it shows the tenacity that you have out there on the field,” Jefferson said. “Of course we don’t want to get penalized for it or make a bad mistake that’ll cost us a game, but just having that hunger, everybody’s emotions high, everybody has that dog mentality. Just bringing the best out of each other.”

More Passing than Running

With a strong stable of running backs, the Razorbacks are expected to have a dominant ground game in 2023, but they used Saturday to hone their passing attack.

According to a team spokesperson, the longest run of the day was a 12-yard gain by AJ Green. Rocket Sanders and Dominique Johnson each had a 10-yard run, too.

He wasn’t mentioned in the run game, but Rashod Dubinion caught a short pass from KJ Jefferson and took it 45 yards, with most of that coming after the catch. Dubinion also had another 15-yard reception from Jefferson, as did Sanders.

That was tied for the longest play of the day. Malachi Singleton had a pair of 45-yard completions, to walk-ons Kamron Bibby (for a touchdown) and Chris Harris, while Jacolby Criswell connected with freshman Davion Dozier for a 45-yard gain.

It sounds like Tyrone Broden, the transfer from Bowling Green, had a big day catching the ball, as well. He reeled in a 20-yard touchdown from Criswell and a 2-yard touchdown from Jefferson during the red zone period and also made a 12-yard catch from Jefferson in the two-minute drill.

Here’s a rundown of the pass plays given to reporters following the scrimmage:

QuarterbackReceiverPlay
KJ JeffersonJaedon Wilson15 yards
KJ JeffersonLuke Hasz30 yards
KJ JeffersonRocket Sanders15 yards
KJ JeffersonRashod Dubinion15 yards
KJ JeffersonAndrew Armstrong20 yards
KJ JeffersonRashod Dubinion45 yards
KJ JeffersonTyrone Broden2-yard TD (RZ)
KJ JeffersonTyrone Broden12 yards (two-minute)
KJ JeffersonAndrew Armstrong12 yards (two-minute)
Jacolby CriswellDavion Dozier45 yards
Jacolby CriswellIsaiah Sategna15 yards
Jacolby CriswellTyrone Broden20-yard TD (RZ)
Jacolby CriswellAJ Green11-yard TD (RZ)
Cade FortinKaylon Morris13-yard TD (RZ)
Malachi SingletonKamron Bibby45-yard TD
Malachi SingletonChris Harris45 yards
Malachi SingletonKaylon Morris15-yard TD (RZ)

Arkansas Football Injury Report

Unlike last week, Arkansas football made it through Saturday scrimmage injury-free, Sam Pittman said.

Looking back at the first scrimmage, tight end Nathan Bax is expected to return, but no details about his injury or timeline were given. That’s much better news than wide receiver Sam Mbake, who suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Linebacker Chris Paul Jr. missed several days of fall camp, including the last scrimmage, with a “slight MCL” injury before returning to practice the last couple of days. However, he was held out of Saturday’s scrimmage as a precaution.

On the bright side, left tackle Devon Manuel returned to action after missing about a week of camp. He got most of his work with the second-team offense, but did get a handful of snaps with the first unit.

It now appears to be a battle between Manuel and redshirt freshman Andrew Chamblee for the starting job.

“Chamblee has earned the right to go out there with the 1s,” Pittman said. “Devon is a really good player. But we certainly didn’t want to disrespect Andrew for all the great work that he’s done but he did get some work with the ones as well.”

Arkansas Football Post-Scrimmage Interviews

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