FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas defeated Kansas 55-53 in a three-overtime thriller Wednesday in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
Arkansas was short on healthy bodies to begin with, but then lost two players in the first quarter. Junior Ty’Kieast Crawford has patiently waited for his chance to play and got the start on Wednesday at right guard. However, on the first series, Crawford was helped off the field following Cam Little’s successful field goal. He never returned and was replaced by true freshman E’Marion Harris.
Arkansas rolled up 681 yards of total offense in the game. Quarterback KJ Jefferson heaped praise on both Harris and tight end Tyrus Washington, who caught a 17-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
“I’m extremely proud of those guys,” Jefferson said. “E’Marion stepping up, the o-line is such a veteran group but he just fit right in with those guys. They were just eager to help him learn and coach him throughout the game. Ty, I’m extremely proud of all the freshmen. Those guys just stepped up and took advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves, so shout out to those guys. We’ve been knowing, they’ve just never gotten a shot. Now that they turned game and were able to perform.”
Right tackle Dalton Wagner lined up next to Harris and also was proud of the former Joe T. Robinson standout.
“Absolutely,” Wagner said. “I can’t speak too highly of E, man. E was in a situation where it’s very difficult. He’s been practicing right guard, but he’s a young guy in a championship game that stepped up to start. He did such a fantastic job out there. He was calm, cool, collective, asking questions, making calls before we’re even getting up there. He was a veteran up there. His future is so bright. I said it earlier this week, I was ready for those freshmen. The whole team was ready for those freshmen, all the young guys. Guys who haven’t played much to go out there and show off and have a heck of a game.”
In addition to Crawford, Rocket Sanders left the game early limping off to never return. True freshman Rashod Dubinion and sophomore AJ Green stepped in for Sanders. Dubinion carried 20 times for 112 yards and two touchdowns. He also pulled in three passes for 19 yards.
“Once 5 went down, I had to step up,” Dubinion said. “That’s what I did.”
Wagner helped clear holes for Dubinion to run through and was impressed with how the true freshman reacted to his increased role.
” Yeah, Dub stepped up in a big way,” Wagner said. “I hate to use that phrase because he’s been practicing really hard. And even when he’s in the game, he runs really hard. So, I hate to use the phrase ‘stepped up’. He did an excellent job tonight, trusted us. He’s patient on his cuts. He pressed them in situations that we could get to blocks and make it better for us. He took care of us the way we needed to take care of him, too. He was out there playing like a veteran, and the future is very bright for him.”
In addition, Jefferson talked about the touchdown pass to Washington. It was the first catch of Washington’s career.
“Oh, my first time actually sitting in the meeting room, I was pretty thrilled that it actually worked,” Jefferson said. “And then we did it in practice, and the scout team wasn’t biting on it. So it was like, do we need to run it or not, because the scout team wasn’t biting on it too hard. So I mean, coach (Kendal) Briles called it at the perfect time. Just being able to just knowing the situation, knowing what the call is (maybe?), I’m happy it end up working out, and I’m proud of Tyrus for catching the ball and scoring his first touchdown.”
The winning play in the game was a wheel route from Jefferson to Dubinion. Jefferson talked about the play.
“Basically we came out in a different formation, tried to see what they were going to be in,” Jefferson said. “They were in man bringing pressure so I told Coach Briles I wanted at least to get on the move if I had to my right and I told Dub, ‘Make sure to run the wheel route and get your head around.’ I just put the ball in the air and he made a great play on the ball. So shouts out to Rashod.”
The Hogs are now 2-0 in bowl games under Sam Pittman.