FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas didn’t have either of its senior captains on offense they started the season with on Saturday, but still managed to put up 48 points and 566 yards of total offense in the loss to Missouri.
Quarterback Feleipe Franks suffered a rib injury in the LSU loss and wasn’t able to go on Saturday after giving in a try in the warmups. Of course senior running back Rakeem Boyd opted out of the season and won’t return.
Enter redshirt freshman quarterback KJ Jefferson, redshirt sophomore running back Trelon Smith, sophomore wide receiver Treylon Burks, junior wide receiver Mike Woods, senior running back T.J. Hammonds, senior tight end Blake Kern and one of the offensive line’s best performances of the season and it added up to plenty offense on the day. Kendal Briles called an outstanding game on a day when the Hogs needed every point and yard just to stay in the contest. Sam Pittman took notice including the Razorbacks rushing for 292 yards.
“Well, I was really proud of KJ Jefferson,” Pittman said. “I thought he stepped in there and played one heck of a football game. Treylon Burks. Our offensive guys, our offensive line, they played really well.
Jefferson finished the game completing 18 of 33 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed 13 times for 32 yards and a touchdown. Smith rushed 26 times for 172 yards and three touchdowns while also catching a pass for one yard. Burks caught 10 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown, rushed three times for 14 yards and was 0-1 passing. Hammonds had six carries for 52 yards and two receptions for 12 more. Kern caught a two-yard touchdown pass. Woods had two catches for 23 yards and a touchdown as well as a two-point conversion. Trey Knox added one reception for 22 yards and Tyson Morris grabbed one for eight yards.
Smith was pleased with the way the running game clicked on Saturday after not having a good game against LSU.
“It worked out well today,” Smith said. “I feel like this was one of our best games as far as the run game this year. KJ 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 running the football, and that just goes back to what I was saying on offense: We were clicking on all cylinders. Everybody was ready, everybody was prepared and we were ready to get the job done.”
Since Pittman knew much of the week it was possible that Franks couldn’t go against Missouri, what kind of week of practice did Jefferson have?
“What kind of week?,” Pittman said. “He had a really good week. We knew early in the week that Feleipe was beat up and we didn’t know if he’d be able to play or not. He certainly tried on Wednesday – but he just isn’t ready. No, he tried on Tuesday and he just wasn’t ready. We came out here today and we asked him to throw some balls to see if he could play. But obviously we knew KJ was ready. He had practiced. More importantly the coaching staff and the team believes in him. We certainly should, you know, with that performance.”
Pittman felt that Briles called an excellent game and kept Missouri off balance much of the day.
“It really was,” Pittman said. “Instead of blocking that guy, we basically blocked him with a pitch. We were able to get numbers to the ball that way. I thought that was very creative and it worked out well for us. Our little backdoor draw play worked out really well for us today. I thought Kendal called a great game and our kids executed. Really hats off to the offense. They really did a nice job.”
Smith talked a little more about what the game plan was for the offense.
“The game plan was just as simple as we had to be physical,” Smith said. “We came out. We wanted to run the ball to open up the pass game. The run game really worked well today. That opened up a few passing lanes for KJ. The main focus was just keep the ball going forward. Four yards here, five yards here and eventually we would get a 40-yard gain. That’s what we were doing.”
Pittman being an ex-offensive line coach loved what he saw from Brad Davis’ unit on Saturday.
“I think any time you can score 48 points and have 550 or more yards or whatever it was, you know, you’d be pleased,” Pittman said. “Obviously today was a day where you had to score almost every time you got it you know. We certainly didn’t do that. But for our offensive line, for our offense, that has to be a confidence builder. They have to do it the next time they go out there. But that has to give them some confidence.”
Arkansas scored with 43 seconds remaining in the game on a 14-yard touchdown pass to Woods from Jefferson. That pulled the Hogs to within 47-46 and Pittman had long before decided to go for two. Jefferson’s pass was almost intercepted but tipped in the air and Woods came away with it.
“Yeah, no doubt,” Pittman said. “Matter of fact, they scored and went up seven. They had scored 21 in a row and they went up seven on us. In that last drive, I told Kendal, ‘I’m going to for two. I’m going to end this thing.’ We’re having a hard time stopping them, we’re going to seal this game and go home. Then the last timeout there before we scored, I reminded the team, I told the team, ‘Hey, I’m going for two. We’re going to get this 2-point conversion and go home.’ It was a wild play, but we did get it. And then we couldn’t stop them.”
Smith said it wasn’t complicated what the plan for the offense on that last drive was as they trailed 47-40.
“Mindset was simply we’ve got to score,” Smith said. “We’ve got to drive the ball down the field, get in the end zone and before the drive started Coach Pittman told us we were gonna go for two and try to get the win. So our main focus was going down there, getting the touchdown and getting the two-point conversion and trying to get away with a W.”
Having a weapon like Burks compile 220 yards of offense was something that Pittman helped Jefferson settle in as the game went along.
“He made some spectacular catches,” Pittman said. “Those guys gave KJ a lot of confidence. They were confident in him. All week during practice, they tried to build his confidence. You look at Treylon, looks here he accounted for a whole bunch of yards receiving, over 200 yards receiving, and then running the ball. I know he ran the ball well, too. You’re right. We used him quite a bit more today and certainly we need to use him and continue to do that.”
Pittman also credited Franks for his influence and guidance for Jefferson.
“I think it was big,” Pittman said. “I think KJ wanted to make Feleipe proud. I mean, I do. I think he wanted to say, ‘Hey look, I’ve learned from you. I can play, as well.’ I think he wanted to make him proud of him and by golly, he had to have. He made me proud.”
Pittman also noted there was a reason he stopped runing Jefferson later in the game.
“Yeah, I was proud of him,” Pittman said. “He got beat up at the end so we couldn’t really run him at all. He got hit on a sack and just tried to get through the rest of the game and did a nice job with it. I am really, really proud of of him. He threw it for 275 yards or whatever it was and we got 566 yards total offense. That’s quarterback driven. First game and things of that nature I am very, very proud of him and he didn’t have any turnovers as well.”
Arkansas (3-6) will close out the regular season at home on Saturday hosting Alabama. The kickoff time and network will be announced on Sunday.