By Jason Pattyson
FAYETTEVILLE — You look at the effort poured out onto Tiger Stadium by the Razorback offense, and there are better days ahead and sooner than later. The 34-31 loss Saturday night to the hands of LSU was a punch to the gut with a quick recovery.
The offense was able to put together drives throughout the game and when it counted most. KJ Jefferson led four drives of 10 or plays that resulted in three field goals and a touchdown late in the game. The big difference in the game was not coming away with touchdowns and settling for field goals, and head coach Sam Pittman felt the same way postgame.
“Yeah, I do. It hurt us,” Pittman said. “We got down there twice and came away with six points. Both of them, I think we had first down… One of them, I think we had on the five. The other one, I think, was on the eight. We weren’t able to score and came away with three. When we faked the field goal down there, I thought we’d score too. I think we actually kicked a further field goal than what we faked. But I really thought we needed something to spark us at that point, and I thought it would, but it didn’t work out.”
The offense moved the ball up and down the field against a stout LSU defense on the road at night. A tall task for a unit that had trouble with Kent St. two weeks ago. They showed effort, will, and a moxie this fan base has been waiting for.
“I told the team after the game, we’re in the SEC,” Pittman said. “It’s a hard league, and everybody’s good. But I think LSU is one of the elite teams of this league. Played toe-to-toe at night with them on the road. Now, they may have played well, may not have played — I don’t know, I don’t know what Coach (Brian) Kelly thinks on how they played, but we wanted a fight, we went in there fighting, and we just came up short.”
Jefferson had a solid game, passing and running the ball. He had a total of 337 total offense. He was 21-31 for 289 yards passing with three passing touchdowns and two interceptions.
“I thought he threw the ball better. He obviously made some plays with his feet,” Pittman said. “Dan, they called some really good read plays with him, reading the three-technique, reading the nose guard, and he made some good runs off of that. He pushed the pile forward several times on third down or a few times on third down to get first downs. He was competitive.”
The rushing attack as a team was not where it should be, and the absence of Rahiem “Rocket” Sanders was greatly missed. He didn’t make the trip with the team, and he was out for a second straight game. Jefferson put the team on his back and carried the ball 16 times for 48 yards to keep the Tiger defense in check.
Tight End Luke Hasz had another atypical day for a freshman, with 116 yards on six receptions and two touchdowns. Jefferson praised his efforts after the game.
“Oh man, tremendous game,” Jefferson said. “It’s just him being in the right place at the right time. When I do break the pocket, he makes sure he’s working, scramble rules, and me finding him,” Jefferson said. ‘It was a great job by him working up the field. Me finding him and him making great catches. On the last touchdown, we knew that was a big touchdown, and he came through. Just shouts out to him. He’s maturing, he’s growing. In clutch situations, I can count on him.”
The offensive line has been a hot-button topic since the season started, and some questions were answered in terms of effort and technique, but some of that is on the upswing. They allowed Jefferson to find receivers downfield, and Pittman and Jefferson pointed that out post-game.
“It was a real team effort. We came up short, but it also shows the growth and maturity we have on our team, and we’re in a great spot right now,” Jefferson said. “We just have to do the little things right — penalties and things like that. Clean up the mistakes on our part, and don’t shoot ourselves in the foot moving forward. We know that, so just being able to go take each day day by day, focus on the small details, and just get back in the win column.”
“I thought they got good push,” Pittamn said about the offensive line and the backs. “I thought R-Dub (Rashod Dubinion) was huge tonight. He made some really good runs, obviously, Luke Hasz is a ball-playing son of a gun, but I thought Dominique (Johnson) really showed his toughness, his grit, his ability to make people miss tonight. I don’t think there’s any doubt that LSU has a really, really good football team; I just wish we’d had three more than they did. I think there was a lot of good things that we saw. Obviously, we’ve still got to clean up the penalties, but other than that, I thought we fought our butt off against what I think is one of the better teams we’ll play this year. “
Pittman went down there to win, and he used an old fake punt that they used two years ago and hoped that it would work, and it did. The frustrating part was that it led to a field goal, not a touchdown. That was the LSU defensive mantra tonight of bend and don’t break, and it worked out well for them.
“Yeah, it’s the same one we ran to the left two years ago when we were here, but we ran it to the right,” Pittman said on the fake kick. “We felt like, hopefully, they wouldn’t talk about a fake because they were worried if we were gonna go for it or not. Which we were we were just using the field goal formation. Max did a nice job, and they blocked it up real nice; we just didn’t get more points out of that than if we just would’ve kicked it.”
The Razorbacks travel to Arlington, Texas, Saturday to take on the Texas A&M Aggies at 11 a.m., and the game will broadcast on either ESPN or The SEC Network.