By Jason Pattyson
FAYETTEVILLE – The first half of the Razorbacks 28-6 victory over the Golden Flash Saturday was one that the fanbase didn’t expect.
Fans were willing to try anything for a different start: a do-over, a mulligan or to just get out on the opposite side of the bed to see if anything would help the offense be more effective. KJ Jefferson and the offense looked out of sync at times and that led to some different combinations in who was protecting Jefferson.
The offensive line struggled to find consistency as Sam Pittman and the offensive staff rotated starters Brady Latham and Andrew Chamblee with Devon Mauel and Ty’Kieast Crawford. The two pairs rotated through the first half to find some success before the staff stayed with the starters for the duration of the second half. The line play was not just a concern for Pittman today.
“We’re just not blocking particularly well, period,” Pittman said after the game. “AJ (Green) got in a little bit of a groove there at the end and R-Dub, but we’re just not a real physical football team. I thought we got better in the second half, but we’ve got to continue… Maybe we had too many runs in going into the game, but we’ve got to figure that out.”
The Razorback offense was at risk of starting the game with two consecutive three and outs before Jefferson called his own number, his first rush of the season, and Kent St.’s junior Alex Branch caught the business end of the contact and had to be helped off the field. He didn’t return for the rest of the game after that.
“It actually felt good, because I haven’t been hit in so long, like you said. Once I got the first hit, I was like ‘Okay, I’m back now,” KJ on his first run of the season. “I feel good. I’m ready now.’ It felt good just being able to help my teammates get out there and secure the victory.”
Arkansas’s offense was stagnant at times before they found the end zone towards the end of the second quarter. Jefferson was cool in the pocket and gave Andrew Armstrong a chance to make a great play.
“So the snap was kind of low. It caught me by surprise,” KJ said on the first touchdown. “Low snap, but first, before the play even started I looked at the down-and-distance and it was third down, so I didn’t want to fall on the ball when we are in the red zone. I just grabbed it and rolled out and saw Andrew in the back of the end zone wide open, so I tried to just give him a good, catchable ball and he made the play.”
The emphasis today was to run the ball, and that was more so the case in the fourth quarter. Arkansas ran the ball a total of 26 times last weekend and 32 times in the second half alone that helped secure the victory. They had 42 rushing attempts for 172 yards and a score and Jefferson accounted for 13 carries for 48 yards.
“The last drive was what we were anticipating would happen the whole day where we’re covering them up and moving them six, eight, four, five, whatever at a time,” Pittman said. “It’s frustrating right now for the kids and for the coaches that we’re not running the ball consistently. We’ll continue to work on it.”
Jefferson’s rushing attempts were a must to get the offense on track after the lackluster start and KJ was asked if he was surprised to have his number called so much today.
“Not at all. I mean I’m willing to do anything for my team, as long as we get the victory,” Jefferson said after the win. “Put my teammates in the best position to win, so I’m willing to do anything. Coach Enos call the play, and I mean, it was up to me to just execute. I put my trust in those guys to block.”
The bright spot in the offense was the receiving core again for a second straight week and Andrew Armstorng had four catches for 21 yards and two scores. He feels like the fit here at Arkansas is paying off.
“I feel like I’m great right now. Just letting it flow as it does,” Armstrong said, fitting into the offense. ”Not trying to force anything. If things don’t go our way, just go to the next play because it’s literally impossible for us to do anything about the last play that just happened. I just feel like the best thing for us is just to keep going and keep moving on, listen to what coach (Dan) Enos has to tell us and just execute.”
Jefferson mentioned in the post game press conference that he has a real connection with Armstrong and it is showing up on the field over the first two games.
“It’s been good. Just having a guy like Andrew who is quarterback friendly,” Jefferson said. “Anytime I roll out the pocket or break the pocket, he’s always trying to mirror me, get in my line of vision. Having a guy like that who understands football, has a great sense of football IQ, is passionate about the game and I’m passionate as well.”
Arkansas looks ahead to BYU as they host the Cougars next week at 6:30 p.m. and it will broadcast on ESPN2.