FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas is coming off a bye week, but prior to that they defeated BYU 52-35 piling up 644 yards of total offense.
In that game, quarterback KJ Jefferson completed 29 of 40 passes for 367 yards and five touchdowns. He also rushed 10 times for 32 yards. That was some return for Jefferson who was injured late in the Alabama game and didn’t play against Mississippi State. Now Jefferson and his teammates have turned their attention to Auburn who they face on Saturday.
“Yes, we’ve had a great week of practice so far just being on a balanced attack throwing the ball and doing some RPO games,” Jefferson said. “We know we’re going to try to run the ball on them. We know they’re trying to stop the run. So, we’re going to balance it out and do a couple RPOs and stuff like that. So far, we’ve been practicing a balanced attack on the offensive side of the ball.”
Sam Pittman opted to not have Jefferson throw any during the bye week. Jefferson talked about getting back in rhythm this week.
“The first day it kind of got back to me being able to just throw again,” Jefferson said. “My arm kind of got tightened up on me because I hadn’t been throwing. Now, just the rest and recovery from me throwing so much and being able to get that time off has truly helped me out. Just being able to come out there fresh and have fun and throw the ball around.”
Against BYU, Jefferson appeared sacked and broke three tackles then had the awareness to find tight end Trey Knox for a 36-yard gain to the opponent’s 22-yard line. Three plays later Jefferson found running back Rashod Dubinion for a 15-yard touchdown to put the Hogs up 31-21 with 40 seconds remaining in the first half. A laughing Jefferson talked about the play.
“He’s in the room and that’s why I’m laughing,” Jefferson said. “We always work… Any time the quarterback breaks the pocket, the first place to look is the sideline. Trey was wide open, so he got quarterback friendly with me and I just wanted to be able to give him a good ball and the rest was history. He made a play, he’s athletic. All I had to do was just make sure I got him the ball and he handled the rest. Just being able to know football, great football IQ, just being able to get quarterback friendly when broke outside the pocket.”
Knox, who caught four passes for 66 yards and a touchdown against BYU talked about the big play with Jefferson.
“I just had a little crossing route,” Knox said. “I ran across the field and I saw him [about to be sacked seemingly]. I was like, ‘Aw, well, we’re about to get off the field I guess.’ Because it was third down.
“Then I saw him spin, and I was like, ‘Oh, he’s about to break this.’ In my head I was thinking, ‘Hopefully the guy guarding me will run and try to tackle KJ. Then I’m definitely going to get the ball right here.’ And then he broke it, and everything came to fruition. The guy guarding me ran at KJ, and KJ looked at me and threw me the ball. I was like, ‘Yes sir, time to slide.’ And so I took off running and made a play.”
For the season, Knox has caught 16 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns. After seven games, Knox has already exceeded his receiving yardage and touchdowns from 2021.
“I think it’s gone really well every week,” Knox said of 2022 season. “I’m just trying to get better every week and control what I can control. My technique and my effort. Just working on my blocking and playing in between the tackles, blocking and helping out those guys in the run game.”
Jefferson has been impressed with Knox’s’ play this year.
“I mean, just, Trey, he’s very smart, very talented,” Jefferson said. “He has a great football IQ, knows the game, he studies the game. He’s a student of the game, so any time… And he transitioned from receiver to tight end and just embraced each and every moment of it. So just being able to have a guy like that, who embraces each and every practice and embraces us as teammates and also to be a leader in that tight end room, it just shows the value that he has to this team and the things that he can do, he has a high ceiling.”
Another key weapon for the Hogs on offense is running back Rocket Sanders. He rushed 15 times for 175 yards and two touchdowns against BYU. He also added one reception for four yards. On the season, he has 140 carries for 870 yards and seven touchdowns. He also has added 15 catches for 189 yards and one touchdown. Jefferson knows what Sanders provides to the Arkansas offense.
“His maturity,” Jefferson said. “He’s mature in ways that I didn’t think he’d be able to mature just from his freshman year to now. He’s matured in tremendous ways being able to just come in, keep that dog mentality, keep working hard and now his opportunity, he’s taking advantage of his opportunity right now. He’s having fun with it. Shouts out to Rocket.”
Knox also heaped praise on Sanders who he helps block for when the Hogs run the ball.
“He’s just done a lot with the opportunities that he’s given,” Knox said. “I mean, dude’s going crazy. I don’t know what else to say. It’s just every time he touches the ball it’s like ‘Is he going to break this one again?’ Or ‘We’ve got to give it to him one more time so he can break it’. That’s how we feel when we’re blocking for him. He just runs hard and he’s so fast and he’s so powerful. He’s a great guy, man. He’s about as quiet as they come. He don’t really talk much, but that boy knows how to play some football.”
Knox feels one big improvement for him has been blocking. He is bigger this season and thus his blocking is considered much better than in the past.
“I think I’ve been getting better every week, just working on my hand placement,” Knox said. “That’s really one of the hardest things I’ve come to find out, is it’s all about hand placement and steps and your feet. And if your feet are terrible, you’re going to lose 9 times out of 10.
“So just taking good steps, especially the first two steps are the most important ones. And then shooting and striking my hands inside the pads. Coach (Dowell) Loggains has done a great job helping me out and doing things that make me and force me to do better and play better with my hands and my feet.”
As far as working with Jefferson, Knox has been one of the quarterbacks key targets late in the game when trying to make a drive to win the game or run time off the clock to preserve a lead both in 2021 and this season. Knox talked about the chemistry he has with Jefferson.
“I think we’re really close,” Knox said. “I just think we’re very in tune to what each other think and expect. I think out on the football field we both think a lot alike. I might do something he totally agrees with that no one else knows about, and we make a play. It’s happened a couple times.
I just think we’re so close that we know what each other is going to do. And then outside [of football], he’s one of the goofiest guys I’ve ever met. And we’re both total goofballs, so it makes for a fun time. We just do crazy stuff and dance, hang out with each other and play video games. Just kick it. I feel like that helps us on the field as well.”
Arkansas and Auburn will kickoff at 11 a.m. on Saturday and televised on the SEC Network.