By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — No. 16 Arkansas defeated South Carolina 44-30 in Reynolds Razorback Stadium to open SEC play on Saturday.
Arkansas (2-0, 1-0) finished with 457 yards of total offense including 295 on the ground. They held the Gamecocks to 411 yards of total offense with 371 coming through the air. Arkansas had a few chances to blow the game open but gave up some quick scores to USC. Sam Pittman was just pleased to get out with the win.
“A lot of respect for South Carolina and their program and Coach (Shane) Beamer,” Pittman said. “I think they play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. I was really proud of our offensive line. We asked them to kind of control the game, and I felt like they did at least until the last series of the first half there when we were a little slippery on pass protection. I think the offensive line wore them down. We made a lot of big plays on defense. A lot of sacks, hurries, this, that and the other, and we gave up a lot. Three hands to the face and things like that, we certainly haven’t had that in practice, but we had it out here today, and we’ve got to clean that up as well. I thought defense made some big plays. Rocket Sanders and the backs ran well. I thought we used our wideouts a little better today. We used all of them, and each one of them contributed certainly in the blocking aspect to the win as well. It feels really good to be 2-0. It feels really good to be 1-0 in the SEC.”
On defense Alabama transfer linebacker Drew Sanders finished with 11 tackles, eight solo, two sacks, a pair of forced fumbles, three tackles for loss, a quarterback hurry and one pass breakup. He, Bumper Pool (seven tackles) and Pooh Paul (four) were outstanding at linebacker all day.
“You know, to be perfectly honest, when you guys ask me, and it’s a great question, when you ask me about individuals it’s hard to answer real good.” Pittman said. “I saw him make some sacks and run some guys down. I think he played a heck of a game. I haven’t looked at the stats yet, but I think he probably led the team in tackles and sacks and everything. He’s getting better each week because he’s understanding and turning it loose a little bit more. If you see today versus when he first came in the spring, you’d think you had two totally different people. He’s a really good player and a great kid and I’m glad he had a great game today.”
On offense, KJ Jefferson had another outstanding game. He completed 18 of 21 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. Jefferson also rushed 19 times for 67 yards and a touchdown. Raheim Sanders also had an outstanding game. He rushed 24 times for 156 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught three passes for 30 yards. Pittman is pleased to see the blueprint of what he wants the program to be is seemingly coming together with the way the season finished last year and now the fast start in 2022. Part of that is just lining up Jefferson and Sanders and making the other team stop them.
“Well, it’s a line of scrimmage game in this league,” Pittman said. “It depends on if you want to make it that or not, and we do. We want to make it a line of scrimmage game. It feels good to be honest with you. I think everybody in the stadium felt good on the first three possessions. We didn’t make a fourth-and-1 in the third and fourth quarter down there, but made close fourth downs, third downs and one. None of them were really great big plays involved in there. It just kind of four and five yards out. To answer your question, it feels really, really good. We have a lot of work to do, but I’m pleased with where we are as a coaching staff and as a team.”
The Razorbacks outscored USC 23-14 in the wild, long fourth quarter. Pittman talked about that.
“Well, that’s two weeks in a row,” Pittman said. “It’s hot out there. I’m ready for it to get over too, you know. I think it was another four-hour game. Our first one was as well. It was bizarre. A lot of different things going on. Quick scores, onside kicks getting returned. Twice we got it, once we didn’t. The last play of the game took five minutes to review. Just a lot of stuff went on, but glad the result is what it was.”
Arkansas built a 21-3 lead on two rushing touchdowns by Sanders and one by Rashod Dubinion. Later in the game Jefferson and AJ Green had rushing touchdowns while Jefferson found for a 23-yard touchdown with 12:03 remaining in the game.
Arkansas will be at home to host Missouri State and Bobby Petrino on Saturday at 6 p.m. Missouri State beat UCA 27-14 to open the season then topped Tennessee-Martin 35-30 on Thursday night.