FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson is enjoying the experience in Tampa as the Razorbacks prepare for Saturday’s Outback Bowl.
Jefferson has helped lead Arkansas be very good on offense and also pretty balanced. The Hogs have averaged 31.5 points per game while averaging rushing for 217.3 yards each outing then 223.6 yards through the air.
“Just starting off the rushing attack opens up our offense because we’re basically a RPO team,” Jefferson said. “So establishing a run here and just basically passing off the run game and knowing my reads and knowing who to throw off and establishing the run game early has helped us this season.”
This season, Jefferson has completed 184 of 275 passes for 2,578 yards, 21 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He has rushed 126 times for 554 yards and five touchdowns. Jefferson and the Razorbacks went 8-4 and are at a bowl game for the first time since 2016.
“It really is special,” Jefferson said. “One thing was to get out of the cold in Arkansas. The weather has been good, and the environment and the people here and the hotel. I’m just soaking up everything and taking pictures of everything. It’s been fun.”
A win over Penn State would get the Razorbacks to nine wins in Sam Pittman’s second year.
“We just want to finish the season strong,” Jefferson said. “We’ve had adversity and we want to end it on a good note and win the Outback Bowl Trophy and bring it back to the State of Arkansas.
Jefferson has battled some nagging injuries all season. He talked about how healthy he is entering this contest.
“Me, I’ve been battling with my knee all season now,” Jefferson said. “But the break we got before we came here, I felt pretty good relaxing and not putting too much stress on it. I’m still getting treatment and making sure my body is 100 percent healthy.”
But Jefferson and his teammates are determined to do everything they can to win this game.
“Extremely motivated,” Jefferson said. “Like he said, we haven’t been to a bowl game since 2016. It’s our national championship. Treat each and every day like we’re going to go out and practice hard and have high intensity. Our objective is to win.”
Jefferson was elected one of Arkansas’ captains entering the season. He has seemingly matured through the season as far as being a more vocal leader.
“It’s a process,” Jefferson said. “A long season. Just get comfortable. My confidence level is rising each and every game each and every week. Going against Grant (Morgan) and guys like that who are students of the game. Just taking it all in, learning from Grant’s leadership skills. Just maturing and watching those guys ahead of me.”
A pair of Penn State linebackers opted out of the game as did a very talented safety. But Jefferson knows the Penn State defense will still present plenty of problems.
“I know about Penn State being a premier football program,” Jefferson said. “I know those guys have athletes just like we have. I’m pretty sure they have guys who can step in and make plays for them as well.”
In Arkansas’ practices two wide receivers who either didn’t play at all or only sparingly as true freshmen this season have impressed him. Bryce Stephens played some and will have a role in the bowl game. Jaedon Wilson didn’t play this season, but has drawn praise from Pittman and now Jefferson.
“Bryce Stephens and Jaedon Wilson among our young receivers have stepped up pretty big time,” Jefferson said. “Just young guys maturing and getting reps. They’ve scrimmaged and been blocking and catching balls. They might come up to me and ask what are you looking at from this standpoint on plays and stuff like that. They are taking advantage of their opportunities right now.”
The Hogs and Penn State will kickoff at 11 a.m. CT on Saturday with the game televised on ESPN2.