FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas started the season 4-0 and was ranked as high as No. 8 in the nation, but then they lost three games before defeating UAPB prior to the open week.
At 5-3, Arkansas will host Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Quarterback KJ Jefferson is aware of what starting the final four-game stretch on the schedule with a win would mean to the team.
“It means a lot, because since I’ve been here I’ve never been to a bowl and got the chance to experience what going to a bowl is like,” Jefferson said. “All the fun activities that you do leading up to the bowl. I’ve never experienced that. We’ve got a great atmosphere here for us to go on that run and get bowl eligible.”
Jefferson is having a banner redshirt sophomore season. He has completed 110 of 178 passes for 1,657 yards, 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. He has also rushed 81 times for 419 yards and five touchdowns. His favorite receiver has been Treylon Burks who has caught 42 passes for 717 yards and seven touchdowns. The closest receiver to him is Tyson Morris who has caught 14 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns. But Jefferson has confidence in all his receivers.
“All my guys basically,” Jefferson said. “T-Mo (Morris), (De’Vion) Warren, the tight ends, (Blake) Kern, Hudson (Henry), Trey Knox. The backs, getting out and controlling the flats, catching the ball out of the backfield. All my guys, they’ll play a big role.”
Redshirt junior Warren Thompson has caught 13 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns, but he struggled in the last game against UAPB with a couple of drops. Jefferson isn’t concerned about that feeling Thompson will bounce back against Mississippi State.
“Oh yes sir, most definitely,” Jefferson said. “That’s the main thing, is to get his confidence back up. He’s had an extremely great two practices that we’ve had and caught the ball well. He’s stayed after practice and caught some balls, the jugs machine, all that stuff. I’m not worried about him being down on himself or nothing like.”
Sam Pittman talked about the wide receivers consistency outside of Burks and correctly pointed out that different receivers have stepped up at different times.
“Well, I think different games, different guys have stood out, and then in different games different guys have not,” Pittman said. “Certainly Warren Thomson has done some nice things for us, and then last week he didn’t play very well. De’Vion Warren has been inconsistent, but he played a little bit better last week. That group, we’re still trying to find consistency in the others besides Burks. Tyson Morris, I think, is still very, very consistent, but he didn’t get any targets last week and was basically on the field for a half. I look for him to have another good game. With Ketron (Jackson), he finally caught a touchdown pass and things, so we have those three young guys that we’re counting on for the future. But it hasn’t been a real, real consistent group. We’ve got to figure out the three that are out there that are going to play consistently, and I don’t think we have the answer right now on that.”
But as far as Burks, Jefferson knows exactly what he has in the talented junior.
“Like I always say, Treylon is just a freak of nature,” Jefferson said. “He’s a great athlete. His catch radius is crazy. Just knowing that I have a guy on my team where I know I can count on him, and he can count on me to put the ball in the right spot. Even if it’s not in the right spot, I know he’ll come down with the ball 90% of the time. Just knowing that I have a guy like that on my team, I can just get him the ball in space and let him make plays.”
Despite how well he played against Ole Miss and Auburn, Jefferson admits the bye week helped him heal from a nagging injury.
“I did have a little problem with my knee, but when I’m out there and going I’m totally locked in and zoned into the game,” Jefferson said. “Playing each play. I don’t think about being tired or none of that. Just play the next play, make sure I get the ball out of my hands and execute the play at a high level.”
A redshirt freshman who has helped Jefferson and the offense is running back Dominique Johnson. He has carried 39 times for 315 yards and four touchdowns. His 7.9 yards per carry leads the Hogs.
“Extremely proud of him,” Jefferson said. “He’s worked his tail off since he got here. Had an extremely great fall camp, spring ball as well. Just coming in, he knows his role. He executes at a high level, and when he gets in, he takes advantage of his opportunity. That’s the main thing coming in. When your opportunity presents itself, you have to be able to perform. That’s what he does.”
For what it’s worth, Pittman agrees with Jefferson about Johnson.
“He needs more carries,” Pittman said. “He needs more carries, that’s how it is. If that’s starting him to get more carries then that’s what we’re going to do. He’s got to get more carries. He’s a guy that’s running over people, making people miss, and he needs to get more carries. Whatever that is, he needs a lot more carries. I thought we had that figured out, but we didn’t. I’m positive we’ve got it figured out.”
Both the Hogs and Mississippi State are 5-3 on the season, but the Bulldogs are ahead of them in the SEC standings with a 3-2 mark in conference games.
“For us, we don’t look at statistics and all that,” Jefferson said. “We just look at it as the next game on the schedule. We’re trying to go on this run, and they’re the next opponent up. So, we’re just trying to dominate and focus on ourselves, basically. Just execute at a high level.”
Mississippi State had a different coach when Jefferson was coming out of Sardis (Miss.) North Panola and they offered him. Jefferson didn’t want to go to Starkville, but admits Mike Leach’s offense is favorable for a quarterback.
“I haven’t watched their offense much,” Jefferson said. “I watched a couple games of their offense. It’s Air Raid. Every quarterback dreams of being in an Air Raid offense. You can throw the ball a thousand times a game. So, it’s what every quarterback dreams of. It’s pretty cool the type of routes they run, and how he spreads the defense out and attacks the holes of the defense. It’s pretty cool.”
Arkansas will not practice today due to it being election day, but will practice again on Wednesday. Arkansas practiced Sunday this week since it wasn’t allowed to practice today.