PROVO, Utah — The game was already well in hand, but Arkansas football fans found themselves holding their breath late in Saturday’s win at BYU.
As the Razorbacks nearly ate up the final 10 minutes of their 52-35 win over the Cougars, star quarterback KJ Jefferson was shaken up on a run down to the 2-yard line.
He laid on the ground for a few seconds — that undoubtedly felt like hours to head coach Sam Pittman and other Arkansas supporters considering it was his first game back from a presumed concussion — before eventually standing up and jogging off the field under his own power. It was later revealed to just be a stinger and Pittman said he could have returned to the game if needed.
“All the years I’ve been playing football, I’ve never had a stinger,” Jefferson said. “It kind of scared me because it went numb a little bit, and I was like, ‘Did I break my neck or something?’ So I mean, I’m doing good. It was just a stinger, so it went away quickly.”
Jefferson’s importance to Arkansas’ offense was on full display the previous week against Mississippi State, when the Razorbacks piled up 483 yards, but managed to score only 17 points. Twice in that game, they were stuffed on fourth-and-1 inside the 10.
With a listed 6-foot-3, 242-pound frame, Jefferson’s presence likely would have been enough to turn those possessions into touchdowns and could have altered the trajectory of the game. His presence was certainly felt against BYU, especially on a dazzling play late in the first half that fully swung momentum in Arkansas’ favor.
On the verge of giving it right back to the Cougars after a Hudson Clark interception, Jefferson somehow evaded three would-be sacks and found Trey Knox open along the sideline. He made one guy miss and picked up 36 yards, easily converting the third-and-11.
“We would love to avoid that situation, but it’s cool to see KJ make something out of nothing there,” right tackle Dalton Wagner said. “Obviously, it’s such a special play that he’s able to extend it like that. I don’t even know how many tackles he broke on that play, but it was insane to see him just get up and keep running.”
Three plays later, Jefferson hit Rashod Dubinion in the end zone for the third of five touchdown passes he threw in the game. It was also part of eight straight scoring drives by the Razorbacks, which was snapped only when they were stuffed at the 1 in the closing seconds.
Jefferson wasn’t as effective in the run game as usual, finishing with only 32 yards on 10 carries, but he did complete 29 of 40 passes (72.5%) for 367 yards. His five touchdown passes were tied for the third-most in a single game in UA history. It’s a mark that only Ryan Mallett, Tyler Wilson and Brandon Allen have reached for the Razorbacks.
“I thought he played fantastic,” Pittman said. “I thought he was really good. When you don’t play for a week… We were fortunate he practiced all week. He practiced on Monday and all those things. I was real proud of him.”
A big reason Arkansas football was able to score on eight straight possession was because of its incredible third-down efficiency.
The Razorbacks moved the sticks on 12 of 15 third downs, which means they converted at an 80% rate. That easily surpassed their 56.3% rate against South Carolina for their best mark of the year and it was also their best of the Sam Pittman era.
In fact, it was Arkansas’ best third-down conversion rate since it was 8 of 10 (also 80%) against UTEP in 2010. Technically still an independent, BYU is essentially treated like a Power Five team and will join the Big 12 next year. The 80% rate is Arkansas’ best against a Power Five team during the SEC era.
“Obviously you’ve got a decision to make on fourth down and there’s so many times that I’m going, ‘Okay, (Briles), you’ve got 2 here. Or if you don’t get it, I’ll punt or whatever,’” Pittman said. “I try to tell him before the play what’s going on, before he calls the third-down play. By golly, they got it almost every time.”
Defense Forces Critical Turnovers
For much of the first half, BYU either led or it was tied. The Razorbacks had a brief 14-13 lead thanks to a missed PAT by the Cougars — their first in 164 minutes and 22 seconds of game action— but really didn’t swing the game in their favor until late in the second quarter.
BYU was pretty much moving the ball at will until Arkansas forced back-to-back turnovers that it turned into points, giving it a 31-21 lead going into halftime.
“I think that was a big turning point in the game, because let’s face the facts, we hadn’t been able to stop them,” Pittman said. “We get it, we go right down and score and I believe we come back and score again right before half. … To come in at half with a 10-point lead was huge because they had the ball in the first possession of the second half.”
The first turnover was made possible by replay, as BYU quarterback Jaren Hall appeared to scramble for a first down on third-and-12, but was spotted just shy of the line to gain after a review. Despite being in their own territory, the Cougars opted to go for it.
Unfortunately for them, they bobbled the snap and Arkansas not only stuffed the play, but Latavious Brini came out of the pile with the ball for a fumble recovery.
BYU had a chance to answer and pull off a 2-for-1 by scoring at the very end of the first half and start of the second half, but couldn’t capitalize. Around midfield, Hall took a deep shot to the sideline and Hudson Clark — making his second straight start at safety — jumped in front of the pass.
It was the former walk-on’s fourth career interception, but first since his famous three-interception game against Ole Miss in 2020, which earned him a scholarship.
“It’s kind of a relief getting one for the first time since 2020,” Clark said. “I’ve had my hands on a few. Just coming down with it was big.”
Clark was also involved in the Razorbacks’ third turnover of the game, falling on a fumble in the fourth quarter with BYU near the red zone. However, he gave most of the credit on that play to teammate Dwight McGlothern, who forced the fumble.
“Dwight made a heck of a play, and he was really excited about it on the sideline, hyping each other up,” Clark said. “But he was really the one that made the play, stripping it. I was there to fall on it.”
Shift in Defensive Scheme
After a disastrous showing by it in last week’s loss at Mississippi State, Arkansas football fans probably never wanted to see the Razorbacks line up in their rush-three, drop-eight defense again.
Ironically, however, one reason they were finally able to slow down BYU’s offense was abandoning their four-man front and shifting back to that scheme.
“I thought it worked really well at the end of the second quarter,” linebacker Bumper Pool said. “We came into halftime and almost felt like we had our identity back. We had some fight.”
It was a classic bend-but-don’t-break scheme that didn’t work particularly well early in the third quarter because BYU started gashing Arkansas on the ground.
After averaging just 2.6 yards per carry before halftime, the Cougars ripped off 4.5 yards per carry in the second half. That was a concession Pittman was willing to make because it also limited BYU’s damage through the air.
Jaren Hall threw for 250 yards in the first half — a total that didn’t even include three pass interference penalties on the Razorbacks — but had just 106 passing yards in the second half.
“There was one point in the second quarter where I told Barry, ‘I don’t care if they run the ball on us for 400 yards. I don’t care. Make them run it,’” Pittman said. “We went to our three-man line. … I was tired of seeing interferences and guys open and scoring, so was Barry.”
Matt Landers Finally Finds End Zone (x3)
Although he came into Saturday’s game as one of Arkansas’ top receivers, Matt Landers was still searching for his first touchdown.
The transfer from Toledo who began his career at Georgia had dropped a potential touchdown earlier in the year against South Carolina, but finally found the end zone on a 4-yard catch in the second quarter. Then he added two more scores for good measure.
Landers’ three touchdown receptions tied a single-game school record that was last accomplished by Jeremy Sprinkle against Mississippi State in 2015. He’s just the sixth different Arkansas player to hit that mark, joining Sprinkle, Drew Morgan (Ole Miss, 2015), Cobi Hamilton (Rutgers, 2012), Anthony Lucas (SMU, 1999) and Alton Baldwin (UA-Monticello, 1944 and TCU, 1945).
“I don’t know if Matt thought we were going to be throwing it, airing it out every play when he came here,” Pittman said. “But for him to have 8 catches and 3 touchdowns… I very rarely mention anybody in postgame — (I) talk about the team and what we did — but I mentioned him today.”
Landers finished one yard shy of his second 100-yard game of the season, as his eight catches also resulted in 99 yards.
Sellout Crowd for Arkansas vs BYU
The game was played in front of a sold-out crowd of 63,470 fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium. A majority of them were decked out in white for the Cougars’ homecoming white out, but there was still a strong contingent of Arkansas football fans.
The Razorbacks sold their entire allotment of 2,000 tickets, which were in the northwest corner of the stadium, but there were also pockets of red throughout the venue, as some fans likely bought their tickets through the secondary market.
It was a solid showing considering getting to the game required either flying or driving nearly 19 hours from Northwest Arkansas.
Arkansas Football Injury Report
Here’s the latest on Arkansas football players dealing with injuries…
- CB Malik Chavis (head): Left the game late in the first quarter… Pittman said he “got his bell rung”
- QB KJ Jefferson (head): Returned to action after missing only one game
- DB Myles Slusher (calf): Did not travel
- DB Jayden Johnson (undisclosed): Did not travel
- DB Khari Johnson (undisclosed): Did not travel
- WR/CB Quincey McAdoo (hand): Traveled and was available as a cornerback
- DT Taurean Carter (knee): Expected to be out for a while
- CB LaDarrius Bishop (knee): Out for the year
- S Jalen Catalon (shoulder): Out for the year
More coverage of Arkansas football on BoAS…