It was a gutsy performance, one we’ve grown accustomed to seeing since Arkansas under head coach Sam Pittman. Most of the time they end in victories. But more often than not, the Tums bottle also takes a little hit.
It’s exciting football, for sure. Great plays by great players on both sides of the ball are pretty much a given now. White knuckle finishes have also become the norm.
So what to make of 19th-ranked Arkansas’ 31-24 season-opening win over 23rd-ranked Cincinnati? It’s natural to overreact to a game, especially the first game of the season. But we all do. It is part of the sport.
With that in mind, here’s how the Razorbacks rated:
What else can be said about KJ Jefferson’s effort? The guy is a gamer’s player. The old cliché of putting the team on his back is worn and overused, but in Jefferson’s case it’s certainly appropriate. With the game on the line, Pittman put the ball in the hands of Jefferson and was not disappointed.
He threw for 223 yards, 18-of-26, with 3 TDs and 0 interceptions. It was his sixth career game of more than 3 TD passes. He also rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Perhaps the only surprise was that he did not lead the team in the race. That honor belonged to Raheim Sanders (122 yards on 20 carries).
Arkansas has now scored 30-plus points in 10 of 16 starts in Jefferson’s career.
The only question, of course, is whether or not he can overcome the punishment that is an SEC West schedule. He limped home last season and will receive the same punishment, if not more, this season. It’s got the size and stature to take a fair amount of beating, but you have to wonder how long it can last.
As mentioned, Sanders had a big game, the second 100-yard game of his career. It was Sanders’ best running game since he produced a career-high 139 yards at Ole Miss last season.
Line blocking was excellent overall and Sanders took full advantage of it, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. As a team, the Hogs rushed for 256 yards, averaging exactly 5 yards per attempt. That’s not surprising considering Arkansas led the SEC in rushing last season.
The reception staff was very good. Four receivers caught passes. Trey Knox had the best game out of him since he put together a 3-game series in the 2019 season before moving to tight end. That’s when he caught 6, 6 and 8 passes for 88, 90 and 83 yards, respectively. On Saturday, he caught 6 passes for a team-high 75 yards. He caught 2 TD passes, the first multi-touchdown receiving game of his career.
Toledo senior transfer Matt Landers caught 3 passes for 43 yards, and Oklahoma transfer Jason Haselwood caught 3 passes for 42 yards and a touchdown, his first since scoring against Kansas last October for the Sooners.
Arkansas veteran Warren Thompson also got in on the act, making 2 receptions for 22 yards. Not bad for a team known primarily for its running game.
Defensive line: B-
The Hogs did a good job of filling Cincinnati’s running game, for the most part. LSU transfer Cory Kiner had the most rushing success for Cincinnati, rushing for 60 yards. But overall, the Razorbacks limited the Bearcats to 146 rushing yards, an average of 3.6 yards per carry.
Any time his linebacking corps includes Bumper Pool, he’s sure to have a good night. Pool compiled a team-high 13 tackles and was once again the heart of the Arkansas defense. It was his 18th career double-digit tackle game.
Too many big plays. To be fair, they came after injuries to veteran leaders Myles Slusher and Jalen Catalon. The Hogs shut out Cincinnati in the first half.
Cincinnati quarterback Ben Bryant threw for 314 yards and 2 TDs, though LSU transfer Dwight McGlothern had a key interception early on. He was Arkansas’ 27th pick since the 2020 season, tying Alabama for the most in the SEC during that span.
Still, Bryant was able to connect with 8 receivers and keep the Bearcats in a game in which they might have had nothing to do.