By Kevin McPherson
Arkansas had won two consecutive games and looked to remain unbeaten in non-conference contests under third-year head coach Sam Pittman against 23rd-ranked Liberty on Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, but instead the Flames scored the game’s first 21 points and got a stop on the Hogs’ potential-game-tying two-point conversion attempt with just over a minute to play in the fourth quarter to hold on for a 21-19 win that spoiled Arkansas’ homecoming.
“You guys saw the same thing I did,” Pittman said during his post-game press conference. “Very, very, very poor showing by us in the first half that got us down. Got lucky actually to get the three before halftime. Got down 21-0. I was proud of our fight, especially our defense in the second half didn’t give up any. Just gave the three touchdowns up in the first half.
“Coach (Hugh) Freeze and his players, we knew they were a good team coming in because they were 7-1 and basically had played Wake Forest the same way we played tonight in a game that got decided on a two-point conversion. So, I want to congratulate them. They played a heck of a game.”
The Razorbacks (5-4, 2-3 SEC) will host 10th-ranked LSU at 11 a.m. CT on Saturday (SEC Network). The Tigers upset No. 6 Alabama, 32-31, on a successful two-point conversion in overtime on Saturday in Baton Rouge, La.
Here are the key stats and trends from Arkansas’ week 10 homecoming loss …
– In their last three home games (Missouri State, Alabama, and Liberty), the Football Hogs fell behind 17-0 (MoSt), 28-0 (‘Bama), and 21-0 (LU).
– Arkansas dropped to 8-1 in non-conference games under Pittman, which includes a 2-1 record against ranked non-conference opponents as well as a 2-0 record away from home (the latter includes the Hogs’ 24-10 win over unranked Penn State in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., last season).
– Liberty, an independent school in its fifth season as an FBS program, won for the first time against an SEC opponent and now stands 2-1 all-time against SEC teams.
– Unlucky No. 23. For the fourth time this season, the Football Hogs played the 23rd-ranked team in the Associated Press Top 25, and for the third time in those four games Arkansas lost. The Razorbacks defeated then-No. 23 Cincinnati, 31-24, in the season-opener in early September, but since then have dropped games against then-No. 23 Texas A&M (23-21), then-No. 23 Mississippi State (40-17), and current-No. 23 Liberty (21-19).
– Arkansas is now 1-4 against ranked teams on the season, which includes a 49-26 home loss against then-No. 2 Alabama on Oct. 1.
– After falling behind 21-0 late in the second quarter, the Hogs used a Cam Little 50-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter to get on the board trailing 21-3 at halftime. A third-quarter safety on a blocked punt out of the back of the end zone, a mid-fourth-quarter 84-yard touchdown drive and two-point conversion, and an 85-yard drive that culminated in a second touchdown with 1:11 to play in the game pulled the Hogs within 21-19, setting up the …
– Play of the game: On the ensuing untimed two-point conversion attempt following their final touchdown to pull within a two-point deficit, 21-19, at the 1:11 mark of the fourth quarter, junior quarterback KJ Jefferson took the shotgun snap and plowed straight up the middle, stretching the football across the goal line as his left knee contacted the ground for what would have been the tying score … BUT the officials marked him just short of the goal line ruling that his knee touched prior to the ball breaking the plane of the goal line. Replay angles were inconclusive, leading to a final verdict from game officials that upheld their call on the field. The Flames recovered the Hogs’ ensuing onside kickoff attempt, and they ran out the clock in victory formation from there.
– The fourth quarter rally from a double-digit deficit was Arkansas’ second consecutive against a non-conference opponent this season at RRS. Missouri State led 27-17 in fourth quarter before the Hogs scored 21 unanswered points for a 38-27 win in September on their home field. The 14 unanswered fourth-quarter points against Liberty on Saturday were not enough this time to secure a Razorbacks home win.
– Jefferson was 23-of-37 passing for 284 yards and 2 touchdowns, but his 2 interceptions doubled his season INT total of 1 coming into the game. His first interception was in the end zone that stopped a promising first-half drive for the Hogs. Prior to Saturday, he had not thrown an INT since week 3 against Missouri State. Jefferson also ran for 36 yards on 16 carries against Liberty. Jefferson is approaching 2,000 passing yards for a second consecutive season (he’s now at 1,981 passing yards through nine games). He has 17 passing touchdowns and 3 interceptions on the season while completing 66.7% of his passes (148-of-222). He also has 425 rushing yards and 6 rushing touchdowns on 117 carries on the season.
– The Razorbacks won total yards (428-315), passing yards (284 to 224), rushing yards (144-91), first downs (22-17), and fourth-down conversions (4-of-6 compared to Liberty’s 0-of-1), but the Flames won third-down conversions (7-of-15 compared to Arkansas’ 4-of-16), penalties (3 for 27 yards compared to Arkansas’ 6 for 36 yards), turnovers (2-1), and time of possession (30:38 compared to Arkansas’ 29.22).
– Arkansas’ total yardage output marked the 23rd time under Pittman that the team exceeded 400 yards of offense.
– Biggest stat of the game for each team: Liberty had 17 tackles for loss or no gain against the Hogs. Arkansas was 3-of-3 on fourth-down conversions during its first TD drive of the game midway through the fourth quarter in what turned out to be a 17-play, 84-yard march to the end zone that consumed 5:07 of game clock.
– Weirdest stat of the game for each team: Arkansas had a 1-play drive that ended with an interception at the 12:58 mark of the fourth quarter, and on the next snap from scrimmage Liberty returned the favor with a 1-play drive that ended with an interception with 12:49 remaining.
– Aside from three consecutive runs netting 50 yards during one drive in the second quarter, sophomore running back and the SEC’s leading rusher Raheim “Rocket” Sanders was held in check running the ball on Saturday as he finished with 17 carries for 60 yards (his lowest single-game rushing total of the season). He did add 2 receptions for 25 yards, plus he had a direct-snap run into the end zone for a two-point conversion following the Hogs’ first touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter that pulled them within 21-13. Through nine games in 2022, Sanders is up to 1,101 yards rushing on 173 carries (6.4 yards per carry), and his 7 rushing TDs tops his 2021 freshman-season total of 5 rushing TDs. He also now has 18 receptions for 220 yards and 1 receiving touchdown on the season as he has surpassed 1,300 all-purpose yards (1,321).
– Arkansas failed to have a 100-yard rusher for the first time in its last 10 games. In each of the Hogs’ previous nine outings (includes the Outback Bowl in January to close out the 2021 season), the trio of Sanders, Jefferson, and sophomore quarterback Malik Hornsby combined to establish a program record for most consecutive games with a 100-yard rusher.
– Pittman dropped to 17-15 overall through his first 32 games at Arkansas. He remains in a two-way tie for 12th place in all-time wins at Arkansas with Jack Mitchell (17-12 in three seasons at UA, 1955-57).
– The Razorbacks are now 3-2 at home this season, which includes two consecutive home defeats (the other home loss was against then-No. 2 Alabama on Oct. 1). Arkansas’ last home win was in mid-September against Missouri State.
– Sophomore running back AJ Green had his best game of the season for the Hogs — 6 carries for 56 yards (9.3 yards per carry) with a long run of 19 yards.
– Senior transfer receiver Matt Landers had his second consecutive 100-yard receiving game (and third of the season) as he caught 6 passes for 119 yards. Junior transfer receiver Jadon Haselwood had a season-high 8 receptions for 86 yards. Senior tight end Trey Knox had 2 receptions for 13 yards with both catches accounting for Arkansas’ 2 touchdowns. Knox leads the Hogs with 5 receiving TDs on the season.
– Freshman defensive back Quincey McAdoo became the first Hog to block a punt and intercept a pass in the same game since 2010 (DB Tramain Thomas). Transfer linebacker Drew Sanders had a career-high 3.5 tackles for loss (including a sack) as part of his team-high 9 tackles.
– Senior linebacker and the program’s all-time leading tackler Bumper Pool was named the Crip Hall Award winner that is given annually to the most outstanding senior on homecoming.