KJ Jefferson’s legacy as a Razorback quarterback should be that of an all-timer. By the numbers, Jefferson will leave Fayetteville as the most productive signal-caller in Arkansas football history. And the yards he’s gained, the touchdowns he’s scored, the linebackers he’s trucked, they all came in at a time Arkansas – the state of, not just the university of – needed them in the worst way.
Jefferson, perhaps more than anyone including athletic director Hunter Yurachek and coach Sam Pittman, made Arkansas football great again. OK, not great. But far better than the Razorbacks had any business being considering where the team had stood for the entire decade before he took over behind center.
So with games like Saturday, the Mississippi native ought not incur the wrath of the hurt and angry. And after games like Saturday, there are a metric ton of the hurt and angry in the Natural State after Arkansas dropped its fourth straight, as No. 16 Ole Miss escaped with a 27-20 victory in Oxford.
Jefferson threw two interceptions. The first, late in the opening quarter, led to an Ole Miss touchdown. The second, in the fourth, ended the Razorbacks’ last drive of the game. Ole Miss simply ran out the clock on its ensuing drive.
The rabble’s remarks were nearly as absurd as they were after Arkansas lost to BYU three weeks ago. Now, not only do the Great Unwashed want coach Sam Pittman fired, they want Jefferson benched.
Per Best of Arkansas Sports’ Andrew Hutchinson, Arkansas had 39 quarterbacks with at least 100 passing attempts since 1956. Jefferson’s 4.8-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio is the best in Arkansas football history, as is his mark of one interception every 66 passing attempts. Not Ryan Mallett or Tyler Wilson or Brandon Allen or Joe Ferguson or Clint Stoerner or anyone else can match those marks.
But, yeah, the most prolific quarterback in school history, the savior of the program from the ashes, should sit and the coach – who you think doesn’t deserve his job – should insert a Morrilton High graduate with 33 pass attempts in four seasons as a college quarterback? Look, Jacolby Criswell is almost definitely a superior option than were Cade Fortin and Malik Hornsby last season when those two were forced into the lineup when Jefferson was lost with injury. But…
Entering Saturday, Arkansas ranked right next to Stanford in Northwestern that unfortunately had nothing to do with academic reputation, but everything to do with sacks allowed. Jefferson had been dropped 18 times in five games. The Rebels battered him another five in The Grove. Pittman said after the loss a good chunk of Jefferson’s miscues throwing the ball this year (his six interceptions so far are more than he had in either of the last two full seasons) were because of the beating he’s taken.
Arkansas vs Ole Miss Composure Issues
“To be perfectly honest with you, the wear and tear of him getting hit, I think that has worn on him a little bit mentally,” Pittman said. “I don’t think he’s as calm back there in the pocket as what he was a year ago. I don’t know that anybody would be as calm back there if you’re getting hit. He did the best he could do under the circumstances.”
Blame Pittman and offensive line coach Cody Kennedy for that all you want. Don’t blame Jefferson. Think about how many more times he’d have been dropped behind the line were he not a freakish athlete with the strength of an ox back there. Add in Arkansas’ non-existent run game Saturday as the Razorbacks had a grand total of 36 yards on 29 carries and it’s a wonder Jefferson kept getting up off the proverbial mat. For the record, he still threw two touchdowns, including the go-ahead one in the fourth quarter.
What’s the point in acceptance, fairness or reality in 2023, though. Arkansas would win 10 games if Dan Enos wasn’t hired. Eleven if Criswell were running the show with Kendall Briles. National champions with those two and any other head coach!
That’s mockery, by the way. Deserved, too, considering that’s about all a particular portion of the so-called Arkansas fan base has provided Pittman, Jefferson, Enos and co. this season. Maybe that’s what those calls for his starting gig are, though. Just another troll job. Why not, right? That works to create a sense of bonding, love and support, as we all know.
Expectations for Arkansas Football
What Arkansas is in 2023 is a fair team that, frankly, is basically meeting expectations record-wise, save the BYU loss. That doesn’t mean the Razorbacks will continue to do so. But anyone who had Arkansas winning two of its first four SEC games had delusions of grandeur. The Hogs have reached double-digit wins three whole times in their entire 30 years in the SEC. On what planet was 2023 going to be one of those, what with the FBS’ worst defense a year ago, a completely new wide-receiving corps and an overhaul at both coordinator spots?
Planet KJ-Jefferson-For-Heisman. That’s it. That was the only way. And now, because that hasn’t happened, those kinds of fanatics are General Sherman marching to the sea. It’s a good thing UGA isn’t on the slate this year, anyway.
Pittman didn’t go so far as to say Jefferson played well Saturday in the post-game press conference. He’s never been one to lie about such things. Instead, the beleaguered coach was his typical classy, honest self, exhausted as he may be.
“I think he played his heart out,” Pittman said. “I think if you asked him he’d probably take a couple, two, three, four throws back. That’s part of the game. He led extremely well tonight and played very hard.”
If you’re asking for any more than that given everything good, bad and otherwise Jefferson has gone through in the last three seasons, you never deserved him in the first place.
More on Arkansas vs Ole Miss and KJ Jefferson from BoAS here: