OXFORD, Miss. — Redshirt sophomore quarterback KJ Jefferson said earlier in the week he was excited to go back to Mississippi and play in front of family members who hadn’t seen him in college.
The former Sardis (Miss.) North Panola four-star recruit was outstanding for the Razorbacks on Saturday, He completed 25 of 35 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing 20 times for 85 yards and three more touchdowns. He threw an interception, but it was a Hail Mary to end the first half.
Jefferson and the Razorbacks fell to Ole Miss 52-51 when Arkansas went for two to win it after scoring a touchdown on the last play of regulation. Jefferson had it Warren Thompson for a nine-yard touchdown as time expired. Sam Pittman correctly opted to go for two and win the game at that time. Jefferson rolled to his right on the play and tried to hit Treylon Burks for the game winner, but it was overthrown and the Rebels started celebrating.
“They came out in a different package than we was expecting,” Jefferson said. “They played coverage to the play we was thinking they were going to play man to. They just played great coverage on the back end. I tried to get one my guys a play. Just throw it and let them make a play.”
Coach Pittman said he thought the pitch play might have been there on the play.
“Originally, you have a pitch, and then you have a route, and then you have an option of the quarterback keeping the ball,” Pittman said. “And I liked the play, I liked it all week. Our offense was ready for it, and basically we felt like the pitch was there. I don’t know if it was or not, I’d have to go back and look at the tape, where we thought we could score just pitching the ball out there. The end, our read, did not go out. He came straight up the field and got in our face a little bit, probably. I’d have to look at it and see if we should have pitched the ball on that, but it was just a three-option loaded front offensively. We weren’t able to execute it.”
Jefferson was asked about the potential pitch play to running back Dominique Johnson.
“It was just kind of muddy,” Jefferson said. “They just muddied the play for the pitch so I just brought it outside and tried to make a play.”
The Hogs went 75 yards on nine plays in the final 1:07 to have a chance to win the game. Pittman talked about Jefferson taking the team down the field and the pass to Thompson that pulled Arkansas to within a point.
“I thought he overthrew it, to be honest with you, when it was in the air,” Pittman said. “He went up and caught it. That was a great drive, to go down, we had 6 seconds on the clock and ended up with 1, but it was a really well-executed 2-minute drive by the offense, and I wish the results were different. But I think I’d do it 100% of the time in the situation that we were in. Ole Miss was just scoring, we were too, but they were scoring easily. We had to work for a little bit of ours, but theirs were coming in bunches and in a bunch of yards. So, I thought that’s what I wanted to do and we just didn’t convert it. I was very proud of KJ. He’s a competitive son of a gun. He ran the ball well, and threw it.”
Jefferson talked about what it felt like to play in front of his family so close to his home where he was a prep standout.
“I was fully pumped, excited to have family members see me play that haven’t seen me play since I played college ball,” Jefferson said. “So getting them to come out and support me I was pumped up about coming back home and playing in front of them.”
Jefferson also was asked how he felt he played?
“My playing I made plays, but it all started with my teammates,” Jefferson said. “The big guys up front giving me lanes to run through. Throwing the ball up to the guys on the outside letting them make a play. It all started with my teammates based on my performance.”
On the day, Burks caught seven passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. But some other receivers also came up big. Tyson Morris caught four passes for 40 yards and Thompson had three for 62 and a touchdown. Tight end Trey Knox added five receptions for 37 yards and a touchdown. Jefferson talked about Burks getting some good help in the passing game.
“Just boosting everybody just keep going up each game,” Jefferson said. “It starts in practice. Just focus on those small details. We know Treylon Burks is a problem, the whole country knows it, so getting other guys the ball takes some stress off of Treylon so he can have match-up problems. Just getting those guys the ball and letting them play ball.”
Both teams had some outstanding running performances as well. Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral was outstanding as well. He had 15 carries for 94 yards and two touchdowns. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns.
Rocket Sanders rushed for 139 yards on 17 carries while Trelon Smith added 11 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown. Ole Miss had two running backs rush for over 100 yards. The ability of both quarterbacks to run helped open it up for the running backs according to Pittman.
“I thought a lot,” Pittman said. “Obviously on both sides running backs had big, big games. They had a couple over 100 yards and we had two at 85 and then Rocket had a 139. So I think it always does to be honest with you. When you have to hold and hang it freezes you on the back side a lot of times for quarterback runs that when you hand it off you can get some big ones because the linebacker can’t close the gap. That’s what happened to us a few times today and then it happened to them, as well. But I think that’s a big, big key.”
Pittman also talked about Sanders’ game which was his best of the season.
“He ran tough,” Pittman said. “They stood him up and stripped the ball from him there on our sideline. He hasn’t done that a whole lot. He’s protected the ball well. Other than that, I thought he was really tough. He’s getting better. He’s a guy everybody in the room can count on. He averaged nine yards, or a little over nine yards, per carry. Just a tough, young kid that’s going to be a really good player for us. Put it out on the line. Just because you lose a game doesn’t mean you don’t have some players that didn’t have a heck of a game. The effort was outstanding. Just because you lose a game doesn’t mean you didn’t play hard. Sometimes you make mistakes because you can’t tackle and you can’t cover. That’s basically what happened today.”
Pittman also praised Knox who moved to tight end from wide receiver on a full-time basis now and had a very good day.
“I think with Trey our feeling was he was going to go in and alternate series,” Pittman said. “He was going to be in the second series and that’s what happened. He got bummed up a little bit with the ankle. But other than that, he’s earned the right to play. I think he’ll help us there. I think he helped us today. We’ve got to gain a little more weight with him. He’s a very willing blocker and very knowledgeable, really, really smart guy. So I think he’ll help us there and be one of the tight ends for our future as well.”
Jefferson also praised Knox for the job he did on Saturday.
“He stepped up big-time,” Jefferson said. “He made the most of his opportunity when it came. Those were big-time plays he made catching the ball in the flats, knowing the down and distance, getting the first down, getting out of bounds, knowing the situation. Trey has always been a great player, and adding him to the tight ends just creates more matchup problems.”
Arkansas (4-2, 1-2) will now return home to host Auburn on Saturday for another 11 a.m. kickoff.