BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Two college football teams that are undefeated but whose fans, players and coaches are seeking better execution will clash Saturday night at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The SEC’s Arkansas (2–0) and new Big 12 member Brigham Young University (2-0) will meet at 6:30 p.m. in a game that will be televised from Fayetteville by ESPN2.
Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake’s program will be trying to avenge Arkansas 52-35 win last season in Provo, Utah.
“Really excited about this week and obviously happy about being 2-0 as a team and excited about the competition that we have had so far and seeing the guys play,” Sitake said. “We are right where we wanted to be at this point.
“Obviously there are some things that we can definitely improve on. Looking forward to improving from week two to week three. I thought we made some improvement from week one to week two.”
BYU opened its season with two home wins, a 14-0 victory over Sam Houston and a 41-16 defeat of visiting Southern Utah.
Arkansas whipped Western Carolina 56-13 in Little Rock on Sept. 2 and handled Kent State 28-6 in Fayetteville last Saturday.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” Sitkake said. “We have a great team in Arkansas, a well-coached team and we are excited about the match up…(Razorback head coach) Sam Pittman is an amazing person, a great mentor and a great coach and I like being around him. I am looking forward to talking to him before and after the game.
“I think in terms of coaching, I just really admire what he has done and the way he leads. Obviously he has the background of an O-line (offensive line) coach so I know they will be really physical.
“We played against them last year and they put up a lot of points on us and they got the victory so we are looking forward to the rematch and going out to Arkansas. We are going to enjoy the game and will try to get ready for them, a tough team with a ton of talent just like you saw last year.”
Neither Arkansas or BYU has been able to run the ball this season as well as it would like to do so.
“I think we don’t need to make this any more complex than it is,” Sitake said. “We need to get ready for Arkansas, learn from some things that we can improve on from week one and week two and try not to make the sane mistakes again, because that did happen a couple of times. So find ways to put ourselves in better position to have success.
“A lot of those is just better focus from the players, better attention to details by the coaches, all those things. This is program that we do everything together so we are trying to find ways to get better as a group.
“Nobody should be feeling comfortable where they think they have arrived yet, but we are 2-0 and we are sitting in position now where we are going up to Arkansas and I think the focus now needs to be on them.”
BYU has 60 new players on its roster this season and will be playing away from home the first this season against an Arkansas team that has 38 newcomers.
“We are going into an environment that we have not see this year, being on the road and how we handle the travel, how we handled the attention to detail, the focus – all that stuff – will come down to our coaches and our players and everybody doing their jobs,” Sitake said. “I am looking forward to that.
“This is going to be a lot of fun. I just want the guys to let loose and just go have a lot of fun this weekend and we will see what the results show.
“I know how Sam Pittman is as a coach and I know he’ll have this guys ready, which for me gives us a higher sense of urgency and making sure we are ready when we get out there.”
BYU has a new quarterback this season in Kedon Slovis, who played three seasons at USC and last season at Pittsburgh and whose high school quarterback coach was Pro Football Hall of Famer Kurt Warner at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Slovis threw for 3,502 yards and 30 TDs with 9 interceptions as a redshirt freshman at USC in 2019 and passed for 2,397 yards, 10 TDs and 9 picks last season at Pitt.
He has taken over for former BYU quarterback Jaren Hall, who let early for the NFL and was a fifth-round selection by the Minnesota Vikings.
Slovis is 42 of 65 passing for 493 yards with four touchdowns and one interception so far this campaign.
“He’s done a great job,” Sitake said. “When we looked into the portal, we were hoping our quarterback would come back, but he decided to enter the draft and got drafted. We knew we had a good group of quarterbacks here, but we wanted to look into the portal and see if there was anyone that could bring some veteran leadership and he was the right guy.
“He fit our program and our culture perfectly and then he happened to be a really good player. So that’s been pretty good for us having him on this team.
“I love coaching him and having him on this team. He is a great leader for us so it has been an honor for me to have him here. I just wish I had him (longer), but we’ll make the most of what we got, the time I have got let with him.”
Arkansas features senior quarterback KJ Jefferson, but will be without injured running back Rocket Sanders for the second straight week
Jefferson was 29 of 40 for 367 yards and five touchdowns against BYU last season while Sanders rushed for 175 yards and a pair of scores.
Jefferson is 31 of 42 passing for 382 yards with 5 touchdowns and no interceptions this season and has rushed 18 times for 59 yards and another score.
“They have a veteran at quarterback returning that is big and strong, can run and can throw,” Sitake said. “He is back in combination with a running back (Sanders) that can run. They have a group of running backs that can run, a core group. And then they have a solid tight end that can catch…in the pass game and throw great blocks.
“And they have big receivers, three receivers that basically they all have about 100 yards each in receiving yards.
“Obviously got some new coaches there, but defense you can see the same thing, an athletic team with a ton of talent. We are rally looking forward to the match up. Obviously we are going to have to be at our best, looking forward to getting there.”
Arkansas has rushed for an average of 138.5 yards per game, down from last season’s 235 a game, while BYU has rushed for just 79 yards per game in its two games in 2023.
“I still see the same talent and the same physical o-line and the presence at the line of scrimmage, very capable runners, very physical and can make big plays. You combine that with a quarterback that can actually run himself, that is always deadly. He also has a strong arms next level and you put that with big receivers, that is always going to be a problem.
“What I see is a really talented team and that’s offense, defense and special teams…We are going to have to be on top of our game to compete in this one and I feel really good about the preparation we have had so far and I feel good about match up.”
Photo courtesy of BYU