--Braden Sarver and Evin Demirel
Redshirt freshman KJ Jefferson’s breakout game against Missouri came about a year later than he imagined.
Two years ago, when Jefferson was a high school senior and Razorback commit, he was already dreaming of the day he’d rock the Tigers. He saw Kelly Bryant, a star dual-threat quarterback, choose Missouri over the Hogs and Jonathan Nance, a former Razorback who transferred to Mizzou, welcome Bryant with open arms there.
He didn’t like what he saw:
Jefferson never did get a chance to show up Nance, a fellow Mississippian who graduated after last season. Jefferson wasn’t quite ready for prime time in 2019 when Arkansas played Missouri as Jack Lindsey and Ben Hicks took all the minutes instead.
One year later, however, Jefferson produced by far his best collegiate performance yet.
Jefferson’s emergence in the 50-48 loss to Missouri on Saturday arrived unexpectedly as he took over for starter Feleipe Franks, who’d injured his ribs two weeks prior.
So Jefferson stepped in for Franks after only two pass attempts and nine rushes all season.
He answered the bell with 306 yards overall, including rushing 32 yards and a touchdown.
He also showed off his big arm, which looks much more accurate than it did last year. He completed 18 of 33 passes for 274 yards and 3 touchdowns, including a perfect deep ball to Burks that went for a 68 yard touchdown. His throws weren’t always perfect, but a receiver like Burks doesn’t need a perfect throw to make a play.
On three plays, Jefferson threw the ball behind Burks on the sideline, but Burks changed his momentum, caught the ball and kept a toe in bounds on all three passes. Burks was the target on the majority of Jefferson’s passes. He brought in 10 receptions for 206 yards and a touchdown. The rest of the receivers combined for eight receptions for 68 yards.
Pro Football Focus reported Jefferson’s effectiveness on deep balls on Saturday was only surpassed by a Heisman frontrunner:
Highest passer rating on 20+ yard throws in Week 14:
1. Mac Jones, Alabama – 158.3
2. KJ Jefferson, Arkansas – 143.8
3. Tyler Shough, Oregon – 127.1
See Jefferson’s passes and run here:
Mike Woods decided it was better late than never, with two receptions (including a touchdown) on Arkansas’ last drive after an uncharacteristically quiet game. On the go-ahead 2 point conversion attempt, Jefferson rocketed the ball off the defender, but Woods came in with the rockstar knee slide to haul in the pass.
The offensive line came to play, giving Jefferson ample time to pick Mizzou apart and Trelon Smith plenty of holes in his debut as the team’s unquestioned featured back.
Along with Jefferson, Smith (173 yards) and Burks (220 total yards) helped Arkansas pile up season highs with 48 points on seven touchdowns and 566 total yards.
“I think anytime you can score 48 points and have 550 or more yards, whatever it was, you’d be pleased,” coach Pittman said after the game. “Today was a day where you had to score almost every time you got it. We certainly didn’t do that. But for our offensive line, for our offense that has to be a confidence builder.”
Smith flashed great vision hitting holes with north-south velocity as he carried the ball 26 times for 172 yards and three touchdowns. T.J. Hammonds, getting more playing time after the defection of Rakeem Boyd, added 52 yards on 6 carries. In all, Arkansas churned out a season-high 292 yards on the ground.
“I feel like this was one of our best games, as far as in the run game,” Trelon Smith said after the game. “KJ, he did an excellent job running the ball, T.J., he stepped up big running the football. I feel like I stepped up to the plate huge in running the football.”
It’s good to see the Hogs’ offense finally find its groove. Earlier this season, the Hogs offense seemed light years behind the defense, but things appear to be trending in the opposite direction now.
Why the defense has fallen off is another story altogether. See our latest post for more:
KJ Jefferson Smack Talks Jonathan Nance, Kelly Bryant
The below article published in December 5, 2018:
For years, the Missouri-Arkansas “rivalry” seemed as exciting and natural as a can of SPAM.
Not after former Razorback wide receiver Jonathan Nance announced his transfer to Missouri with a Tweet in which he primps and poses with another transfer he helped recruit.
And definitely not after considering that fellow transfer is none other than dual-threat dynamo Kelly Bryant. By choosing Mizzou, he spurned Arkansas (among other programs) on the very day Chad Morris turned 50 years old.
On social media, a few Razorbacks supported the decisions by their former teammate, Jonathan Nance, and Kelly Bryant, whom they got to know during the recruitment. Junior defensive lineman Dorian Gerald Tweeted he’s ready to rock ‘n roll regardless, and is more psyched about star linebacker De’Jon “Scoota” Harris returning for his senior year:
— Dorian Gerald (@dorianmgerald) December 5, 2018
But the Razorback who responded the most forcefully hasn’t even set foot on campus yet. That would be Arkansas football commit KJ Jefferson, a dual- threat dynamo in his own right. The 6’3″, 211 pound Mississippian finished his senior season with 3180 passing yards, 37 passing touchdowns, eight interceptions, 916 rushing yards, seven rushing touchdowns and this fine piece of gentlemanly smack talk:
— K.M.T ???♂️? (@KJ_Jefferson2) December 5, 2018
Arkansas next plays Missouri in Little Rock on November 30, 2019. By that time, KJ Jefferson may have improved enough in his first season to take the reins as starting quarterback. If so, he’ll be looking to open a can of something.
Rest assured, it won’t be SPAM.
KJ Jefferson Shredding Defenses During the 2018 State Playoffs