By Kevin McPherson
No. 10 Arkansas fought back from TWO double-digit deficits to remain unbeaten with a 38-27 win over FCS-member Missouri State on Saturday at Donald W. Reynolds Razorbacks Stadium in Fayetteville as the Football Hogs won the battle of the two most successful Razorback head coaches spanning the last 15 years.
Using an explosive, lightning-fast-and-furious offensive scoring attack and a homerun in the punt return game to offset a minus-3 effort in the turnover war, Arkansas (3-0, 1-0 SEC) gave its successful current head coach Sam Pittman a victory over former successful Head Hog (34-17 at Arkansas, 2008-2011) and current Missouri State head coach Bobby Petrino. Not only did the Razorbacks continue their unblemished course through the first quarter of their 2022 season, but they also established more lofty milestones relative to the program’s turnaround under Pittman.
“I want to congratulate Missouri State and Coach Petrino on a great game plan,” Pittman said. “He had his kids better prepared than I did. He did a wonderful job. They have a really good quarterback. We knew that coming in, and man did he make a lot of plays. We turned the ball over twice, but when Bryce Stephens returned that punt for a touchdown. That hadn’t been done, it was last year, but the first time this year. We’re just so fortunate to win.
“These games like this, if you’re not playing well or the other team’s playing well or whatever the situation is, you’re trying to fight and claw to get out with a win. There was several different times in the game it looked like we weren’t going to. Our kids just kept fighting and clawing, and to come out with an 11-point win says a lot about the culture of our program and our kids. I’m really proud that we won the game, and I’ll leave it at that for right now.”
So here they are, the stats and trends that matter from Arkansas’ week three victory …
– Arkansas remains unbeaten (now 7-0) in non-conference games under Pittman, which includes a 2-0 record against ranked non-conference opponents as well as the Hogs’ 24-10 win over unranked Penn State in the Outback Bowl last season. Since Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992, no other Razorbacks head coach started unbeaten through his first seven non-conference games. In fact, the last Arkansas coach to do so was Lou Holtz (1977-1978).
– The last time the Razorbacks faced a former head coach was in the 2012 season-opener on Sept. 1 when Arkansas defeated Jack Crowe’s Jacksonville State squad, 49-24, in Fayetteville in Crowe’s final season as a college coach. In SEC play in the prior season (2011), Arkansas went on the road to knock off Houston Nutt’s Ole Miss team, 29-24, on Oct. 22.
– Arkansas scored the final 21 points of the game in a 9:59 span of the fourth quarter — touchdowns at the 11:38, 9:16, and 1:39 marks — to overcome a 10-point deficit early in the final period. That’s right, the Hogs flipped a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit into an 11-point win. Prior to that turn of fortunes, the Hogs scored 17 unanswered points combined in the second and third quarters to tie the game at 17-all after falling behind 17-0 in the second quarter. Last week in turning a 5-point fourth-quarter lead into a 44-30 home win in the SEC opener against South Carolina, the Hogs scored 23 fourth-quarter points.
– The Hogs’ overcoming a 17-point deficit to win against Missouri State (now 2-1) stands as the biggest comeback victory of the Pittman era at Arkansas, and it snapped a 27-game losing streak for the Hogs when they entered the fourth quarter of games trailing on the scoreboard. The previous largest deficit overcome en route to victory under Pittman was on the road against Tennessee in 2020 when the Hogs overturned an early 13-0 deficit by scoring 24 unanswered points for an 11-point win, 24-13.
– Arkansas had two 2-play touchdown drives — the first two-play drive went 85 yards to pay-dirt, and the other one went 75 yards for the score — resulting in 14 points while chewing up only 42 seconds of game clock. The Hogs also had an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown (more on that later). For the game, Missouri State won time of possession (35:51 compared to Arkansas’ 24:09).
– For the first time this season, Arkansas lost the turnover battle (3-0) as well as points-off-turnovers (10-0). Nonetheless, on the season the Hogs stand plus-1 in the turnover department overall (5-4), and they’re plus-8 overall on the season in points-off-turnovers (21-13).
– Pittman improved to 15-11 overall through his first 26 games at Arkansas, the best start for a Head Hog through his first 26 games since Nutt sported a 19-7 record at the same juncture (1998, 1999, and the first two games of 2000). Pittman is two wins away from moving into a two-way tie for 12th place in all-time wins at Arkansas with Jack Mitchell (17-12 in three seasons at UA, 1955-57).
– The Football Hogs have won 5 consecutive games going back to the final two contests of last season (includes the Outback Bowl win over Penn State in January), and they’ve won 12 of their last 16 games dating back to the start of last season. They’re now 7-4 overall as a ranked team under Pittman.
– Arkansas’ offense continues to be led by dominant 1-2 punch performances from junior quarterback KJ Jefferson and sophomore running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders, and despite the dynamic duo uncharacteristically combining for all 3 of the Hogs’ turnovers they both also put up statistical career highs (more on that just below).
– Sanders, the SEC’s leading rusher coming into the weekend, established a second consecutive career-high in rushing yards in a single game. He had 167 rushing yards on 22 carries (a 7.6-yards-per-carry average) to go with a rushing touchdown (his third of the season) and a lost fumble (his first of the season) that was recovered in the end zone on a first-and-goal carry from the Missouri State 1-yard line, plus he had a career-high 75 receiving yards on 2 receptions (included a 73-yard run-after-shovel-pass-catch for his second career receiving touchdown). Sanders becomes 1 of only 2 SEC players since 2000 (former Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin was the other) to record 150-plus rushing yards, 1 or more rushing touchdowns, 70-plus receiving yards, and 1 or more receiving touchdowns in a single game (stat provided by Razorback Communications). He’s now rushed for 100-plus yards in each of Arkansas’ first three games, giving him four 100-plus-yard rushing games in his career. He’s the first Arkansas back to open the season with three 100-yard rushing games since 2013 when Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams both accomplished the feat. His 242 scrimmage yards against Missouri State is the first time he’s exceeded 200 scrimmage yards in a game, and the matchup marked the first time as a Hog that he’s scored both as a rusher and a receiver in the same game. Sanders once again mixed in big plays (a 43-yard romp was his biggest run) with some getting-to-the edge quickness, cutbacks with burst, and physical north-and-south running. Sanders is now averaging 146.7 rushing yards per game on 22.0 carries (6.7 yards per carry) with 3 rushing touchdowns, plus he has totals of 5 receptions for 117 receiving yards with 1 receiving touchdown.
– Jefferson was once again a dual-threat difference-maker — 19-of-31 passing (season highs in both completions and attempts) for a career-high 385 yards (which doubled his season total in passing yardage) with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception (his first of the season) to go with 9 carries for 40 yards with 1 touchdown and a lost fumble (his second of the season). Jefferson was coming off a blistering-hot passing effort in the Hogs’ 44-30 SEC-opening win last week against South Carolina when he completed his first 8 pass attempts en route to an 18-of-21 final effort (85.7% ranks second-best for a single game in school history, minimum 20 attempts) for 162 yards and 1 touchdown to go with 19 carries for 67 yards and 1 touchdown. Combined through Arkansas’ first three games, Jefferson is 55-of-78 through the air (70.5%) for 770 passing yards (256.7 per game), 6 touchdowns, and 1 interception to go with 46 carries for 169 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns. That adds up to 939 total yards and 9 total touchdowns for Jefferson through three games. He’s reached at least 1 passing touchdown and 1 rushing touchdown in a game for the seventh time in his Arkansas career, and he’s now had at least one rushing touchdown in each of his last four games going back to last season (the last Hog QB to accomplish four consecutive games with at least one rushing touchdown was Quinn Grovey in 1988).
– Senior Toledo-via-Georgia transfer wide receiver Matt Landers had Arkansas’ first 100-plus-yard receiving game of the season, piling up 123 yards (includes a long of 47 yards) on 7 receptions. Senior Oklahoma transfer Jadon Haselwood had his best game as a Hog as well, tallying a season-high 86 yards on a season-high-matching 5 receptions with 1 touchdown, his second of the season. Sophomore Ketron Jackson, Jr., had 1 catch for 64 yards that set Arkansas up with 1st-and-goal at the 1-yard-line late in the first quarter. Senior tight end Trey Knox had 3 receptions for 30 yards, although his bobble that should have been a short catch for a first down in Missouri State territory resulted in the aforementioned Jefferson interception to end the Hogs’ first possession to start the third quarter. Including Sanders’ best receiving game at Arkansas, the Hogs had big-play balance in their air attack.
– Arkansas improved to 8-0 all-time against the Missouri State Bears, which includes a combined total 316-point winning margin (or a 39.5-point average winning margin).
– Missouri State is the second FCS school that Arkansas has faced in the Pittman era while marking only the 4th time in 26 games under Pittman that the Razorbacks did not play a ranked FBS team, a league opponent, or a non-conference Power 5 school. In addition to Missouri State, the other outliers were three opponents played last season — all Arkansas wins — against Rice (FBS), Georgia Southern (FBS), and Arkansas-Pine Bluff (FCS).
– Arkansas avoided becoming only the second Top 10-ranked FBS team to lose to an FCS team, EVER. The one-and-only time it has happened was in 2007 when Appalachian State (now FBS, was FCS back then) upset No. 5 Michigan, 34-32, in Ann Arbor, Mich.
– When the Bears scored a touchdown with 2:47 to play in the first quarter to go ahead 7-0, it was the first time all season the Hogs trailed in a game. Missouri State would also hold leads of 10-0 in the second quarter, 17-0 in the second quarter, 17-7 in the second quarter, 17-14 at halftime, 24-17 in the third quarter, and 27-17 early in the fourth quarter.
– Arkansas was 3 yards shy of reaching 600 scrimmage yards, finishing with 597 yards combined through the air and ground (385 yards passing with 2 touchdowns, and 212 yards rushing with 2 touchdowns). The Razorbacks had 22 first downs, and they were 5-of-12 on third downs and 1-of-2 on fourth downs. The offense was truly balanced in week one in the win over Cincy (224 rushing yards and 1 touchdown, and 223 passing/receiving yards and 3 touchdowns), then last week the offense was more about punishing rush-attack ball-control (295 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns on 65 carries as four different players scored a rushing touchdown, plus 162 yards through the air and 1 touchdown). The Hogs have topped 445 yards of total offense in each game as they have totaled 1,501 yards for a per-game average of 500.3 yards. Arkansas has scored at least four touchdowns in each game this season.
– Due to quick-strike scoring drives, three turnovers, a turnover on downs, several dropped passes, and several offensive penalties, Arkansas had only 67 offensive snaps (compared to 75 for Missouri State), but the Hogs did cross midfield into Bears territory on 9 of their 12 offensive possessions.
– Arkansas’ eight sacks against Missouri State are the program’s most since recording eight at Auburn in 2012. The Razorbacks also recorded eight sacks against Texas in the 2000 Cotton Bowl (these two stat facts provided by Razorback Communications).
– Defensively, Arkansas once again gave up 400-plus scrimmage yards (404), but for the third consecutive game the Hogs shut down their opponents’ rushing attack as they limited the Bears to 52 yards on 32 attempts (yes, a good chunk of that final tally was due to lost yardage via eight sacks) for a 1.6-yard-per-carry average. And for the third consecutive game, the Hogs gave up at least 325 yards through the air as the Bears racked up 357 yards and 1 touchdown on 24-of-43 passing. The Hogs yielded 7-of-18 on third down conversions and 1-of-1 on fourth down. The Hogs gave up five plays of 20 or more yards, including three through the air that went for 38, 45, and 47 yards.
– Alabama-transfer linebacker Drew Sanders had double-digit tackles — 12 (included a career-high 2.5 sacks) — for a second consecutive game. Defensive linemen Jordan Domineck and Zach Williams each recorded 2.0 sacks. Safety Saimeon Blair notched a career-high 10 tackles (9 of which were solo stops). Senior linebacker Bumper Pool had 9 tackles and 2 quarterback hurries.
– Special teams were special. Bryce Stephens’ 82-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter gave Arkansas the lead for good, 31-27, and it was the Hogs’ first punt return for a TD since Nathan Parodi had one in a blowout win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff last season. Sophomore kicker Cam Little was true on his only field goal attempt (a 27-yarder) as he’s now 2-of-3 on field goals for the season, and he’s a perfect 15-of-15 on point-after-touchdown kicks. Sophomore running back / kickoff returner AJ Green had 1 kickoff return for 34 yards. Punter Max Fletcher averaged 37.7 yards on three punts with a long of 47 yards, and two of his punts resulted in Missouri State starting with field position at its own 20- and 15-yard lines.
– Saturday’s attendance at DWRRS was announced at 74,133, which is the largest home attendance against an FCS opponent in school history. Last week against South Carolina it was 72,437, and the week before that in a 31-24 win over then-No. 23-ranked Cincinnati it was 74,751, which was the 7th largest crowd for a home game in school history.
– The Hogs have now handed each of their first three opponents their first loss of the season.
– The 10th-ranked Hogs sit atop the SEC West standings tied with LSU at 1-0, while No. 1 Georgia and No. 9 Kentucky are tied for first in the league’s East division at 1-0.
– Arkansas will jump back into SEC play next weekend when it has its annual neutral-site matchup against No. 24 Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Razorbacks won the game last season, 20-10, when both teams were ranked.
– The Razorbacks are assured of entering game four as a ranked team since the start of the season, which had not happened at Arkansas since 2011 (Petrino’s fourth and final season as Head Hog).