By Kevin McPherson

The 19th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks defeated a ranked opponent in a season opener for the first time in 48 years with their 31-24 victory over No. 23 Cincinnati on Saturday at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

From a successful and balanced run/pass attack with solid game-management and timely playmaking by star junior quarterback KJ Jefferson to winning the turnover battle backed by a mostly bend-but-don’t-break defense, Arkansas took care of business against a program that has been among the best in college football in recent years. Not only did the Razorbacks pass their first test against a quality opponent, but they also established some new lofty milestones relative to the program’s turnaround under third-year head coach Sam Pittman.

So here they are, the stats and trends that matter from Arkansas’ week one victory …

  • One down, one to go. The Football Hogs will have hosted 2 of last season’s 4 College Football Playoff Semifinalists — Cincinnati (13-1 last season) and national runner-up Alabama (13-1 last season) — in just less than a month during the first half of the 2022-23 campaign. Arkansas is off to a great start with its 7-point win over the 23rd-ranked Bearcats on Saturday at DWRRS with the top-ranked Crimson Tide scheduled to invade Fayetteville on Oct. 1.
  • The last time Arkansas had beaten a ranked opponent in a season opener was in 1974 when the 20th-ranked Razorbacks defeated the 5th-ranked Southern Cal Trojans, 22-7, at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock on Sept. 14.
  • The Hogs snapped Cincy’s 22-game regular-season winning streak (all 13 regular-season games in 2021 plus the Bearcats’ final 9 regular season games in 2020).
  • Arkansas remains unbeaten (now 6-0) in non-conference games under Pittman, which includes a 2-0 record against ranked opponents as well as the Hogs’ 24-10 win over unranked Penn State in the Outback Bowl last season.
  • Saturday’s attendance at DWRRS — 74,751 — was the 7th largest for a home game in school history. It was the first time that a home opener at DWRRS featured two ranked teams.
  • With both teams being nearly identical in so many offensive categories (Hogs with 447 yards of total offense, Cincy with 438; both teams were 8-of-16 on 3rd down conversions; Cincy with 24 first downs, Hogs with 23) as well as penalties (Cincy 10 violations for 65 yards, Arkansas with 7 for 63 yards), the biggest and most important stats of the game turned out to be turnovers (2-1 in favor of Arkansas) and points off turnovers (14-3 in favor of Arkansas).
  • Speaking of identical, Arkansas managed 223 yards passing and 224 yards rushing. The Hogs tallied three touchdowns by air and one by ground to go with a Cam Little 32-yard field goal.
  • As good as Hogs junior quarterback KJ Jefferson’s season was in 2021, both statistically and in the win-loss column, he did not start particularly well as a passer in Arkansas’ 38-17 season-opening win over Rice at home on Sept. 4 a season ago as he had a rough first half en route to finishing the game 12-of-21 for 128 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Fast-forward a year to the 2022 opener in a matchup between ranked teams, and aside from a handful of mistakes Jefferson’s confidence and maturity in his second season as the starter were evident as he went 18-of-26 passing for 223 yards and 3 touchdowns to go with 18 carries for 62 yards and 1 touchdown. He did lose a fumble at Arkansas’ 3-yard-line in a shaky third quarter for the Hogs, but when facing pressure from Cincy blitzes Jefferson hit 8-of-9 passes for 105 yards and 2 touchdowns.
  • Pittman improved to 13-11 overall at Arkansas, becoming the first Head Hog since Houston Nutt to sport a winning record through his first 24 games (Nutt went a combined 17-7 in 1998-1999).
  • Sophomore running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders (6-2, 227) had his second-best rushing game as a Hog at halftime (82 yards on 10 carries), and by the end of the game he had 117 yards yards on 20 carries (5.9 yards per carry) to go with 3 receptions for 12 yards. Combined with his stellar previous performance in the Hogs’ 24-10 win over Penn State in the Outback Bowl in January, Sanders has totaled 196 yards on 33 carries (5.8 yards per carry) and 2 touchdowns in his last two outings. He now has two career 100-yard rushing games at Arkansas, which includes his high-water mark last season of 139 yards on 17 carries in the Hogs’ heart-breaking 52-51 loss at Ole Miss on Oct. 9, 2021.
  • Arkansas has won 10 of its last 14 games dating back to the start of last season. To count up the program’s previous 10 wins you have to go back and add up Hog victories from 2017, 2018, 2019, and nearly midway through the 2020 season, the latter of which includes two of the three wins from Pittman’s first season at Arkansas.
  • Senior Trey Knox the tight end was the team’s leading receiver on Saturday as he had team highs in receptions (6), yards (75), and touchdowns (2). He also snagged a couple of tough catches on third downs to preserve drives for the Hogs in a tightly contested game. Recruited as a highly regarded wide receiver out of high school, Knox had been little-used as a receiver in his sophomore and junior seasons as he registered only 27 receptions for 211 yards and 1 touchdown combined in those two campaigns.
  • Cincy ran 74 offensive plays from scrimmage with 37 non-penalized snaps coming on Arkansas’ side of the field — that’s half of the plays — but a combination of Bearcats’ mistakes and the Hogs’ timely defensive playmaking led to the following mostly inefficient stat line for Cincy’s offense in Arkansas territory: 150 yards of offense (only 4.0 yards per play), 3 TDs, 1 interception, 1 lost fumble, 1-of-3 in field goal conversions, and 6 costly penalties in the second half that thwarted a couple of potential touchdown-scoring opportunities.
  • Not sure if there is an official stat kept on this, but we counted 7 lost-helmet-in-the-field-of-play scenarios — ALL by Cincy — that led to one-ensuing-play disqualifications each time a Bearcat had his helmet pop off his head.
  • Arkansas improved to 3-3 against ranked teams since the start of last season (includes a 2-0 mark at home), and 4-8 overall against ranked opponents since Pittman’s inaugural campaign in 2020. The Hogs’ average winning margin in those four wins is 10.8 points (43 points total cushion) as they defeated 2 of the 4 opponents by double digits.
  • The Football Hogs are now 2-3 as a ranked team competing against ranked teams under Pittman, and they’re 5-4 overall as a ranked team in the same span.
  • Arkansas moved to 2-1 in season openers under Pittman (includes a 1-1 mark in season openers against ranked opponents).
  • With the win over 23rd-ranked Cincy, Arkansas is assured of being ranked going into its second game of the season next week as the Hogs will be at home once again to host South Carolina in both teams’ SEC opener. The last time Arkansas was ranked through the first two games of a season was a decade ago — 2012, which was John L. Smith’s one-and-done campaign as Head Hog. Arkansas was ranked No. 10 when it defeated Jacksonville State, 49-24, in the 2012 season opener, and after moving up to No. 8 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll the following week the program fell hard and fast in a 34-31 loss against unranked Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock, starting a downward spiral that lasted … well, you know the rest.
  • The Razorbacks averaged 30.9 points per game last season, but they scored 40 or more points in 3 of their 4 non-conference games with the low-water mark coming in a 38-17 home win over Rice in their 2021 season debut. On Saturday against Cincy, the Hogs effectively matched their 13-game season scoring average from 2021.