KJ Jefferson Leads Razorbacks Past Penn State 24-10, Earns Game MVP

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Photo by Otis Kirk

TAMPA, Fla. — Redshirt sophomore quarterback KJ Jefferson helped lead an Arkansas offense that outscored Penn State 17-0 in the second half on its way to a 24-10 victory in the Outback Bowl.

No. 21 Arkansas was down 10-7 at intermission. Jefferson put the team on his back in the second half with the Hogs rushing for 361 yards and three touchdowns on 45 attempts. That was the second best rushing total in Outback Bowl history.

Jefferson finished the game with 20 carries for 110 yards and a touchdown. He was 14 of 19 passing for 90 yards and an interception, which was just his fourth of the season. Jefferson talked about what the discussion was at halftime.

“Like Coach (Sam) Pittman said he came in and just told us we’re only down three,” Jefferson said. “At that point the leaders took over. We were being more vocal all the leaders, captains and seniors. Everybody was just being more vocal. We knew we had to play our brand of football. The first half wasn’t our brand of football. So just coming out we took it as a challenge. We just put our best foot forward and we played Arkansas brand of football.”

Jefferson admitted that he put more on himself and his shoulders in the second half. Arkansas got the ball to start the second half. They went 75 yards in seven plays to take a 14-10 lead and never trailed again. On that drive, Jefferson ran for 10, 14, 14 and then eight for the touchdown. So on the opening drive of the second half, Jefferson had four carries for 46 yards and a touchdown.

“Coach (Kendal) Briles took me to the side and said at some point you’ve got to takeover the game, put it in your hands,” Jefferson said. “We’ve just got to put our best foot forward, score points and win the game.”

Arkansas finishes 9-4 in a season many predicted they would finish in last place in the SEC West. Jefferson talked about what it feels like to finish the season with the bowl win and certain to move up in the polls.

“I’m just embracing it all,” Jefferson said. “The guys, my teammates, just put in the work fall ball, in spring ball, just believing in the coaching staff, believing in the brotherhood and bond we share. We just embraced on it all. Reflect on it all just tell the younger kids and our other family members hey we did this during the season.”

Jefferson was also very complimentary of the Arkansas defense that held the Nittany Lions to 10 points and only 323 yards of total offense. The way the defense played made Jefferson’s job and that of the offense easier.

“I’m extremely proud of those guys,” Jefferson said. “The way they swarmed the ball and gang tackled each and every play. Just knowing they had our back then we picked it up and had their backs. It was just a team effort.”

Linebacker Grant Morgan had five tackles and a big compliment for Jefferson.

“The definition of KJ Jefferson is a grown man,” Morgan said. “He did exactly what he was supposed to do. He played so hard. He did even more than what he was supposed to do. The way he played so hard. I’m glad he’s on my team, or was on my team. I’m glad I’m not the one tackling him anymore.”

One of the trio of senior linebackers is Bumper Pool who Pittman told Jefferson during the postgame press conference they had work to do to recruit him to return for another year.

“Coach Pittman’s been great,” Pool said. “It’s almost like he turned on his recruiting as if I was a recruit again. It’s always nice to hear those things. Just very honored to be in the position we were in and to get a win today.”

Jefferson hasn’t been about individual awards or accolades all season, but one of his goals was to win the MVP of this game. Now that has been accomplished he talked about how it feels.

“It’s a dream come true,” Jefferson said. “This whole week. Me, Coach Pittman and we been going back and forth. Coach Pittman said I had a high chance of winning it since he opted out. So to play for a coach like that has a lot of confidence in me. Just instilling that confidence and leadership in me and my teammates also believe in me and we just out there. It was a dream come true.”

True freshman running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders rushed 13 times for 79 yards and two touchdowns in front of his family and friends from nearby Rockbridge. Sanders praised Jefferson.

“Man, I feel like he was prepared,” Sanders said. “I feel like he was prepared. And I believe in him. I believe in him heavy. When it came down to it, he was ready to go. I feel like he gave it his all. I believe in him, the same as the whole team.”

The win was Arkansas’ first in school history against a Big Ten school in bowl games. They were previously 0-4.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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