Arkansas football: 3 keys to cranking up the jukebox in Provo
It has been a minute since Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman entered a jubilant Razorbacks postgame locker room to deliver his patented declaration. Yes, the jukebox has gone dormant, on a 3-game hiatus, the victim of injuries, poor tackling and one of the toughest schedules in all of college football.
All 6 of Arkansas’ FBS opponents this season have either been ranked or received votes. That includes the Hogs’ opponent on Saturday (2:30 p.m. CT). The Razorbacks hit the road for a 2nd consecutive week, venturing up to Provo, Utah, to take on a 4-2 BYU team that received votes in both the AP Top 25 and USA Today Coaches’ Poll. It’ll be the 1st-ever meeting between the programs.
The 3-3 Razorbacks are looking to crank up the jukebox once again after opening the 2022 season with 3 consecutive victories, only to drop the last 3, and keep Pittman perfect against nonconference opponents. He’s the 1st Arkansas head coach since Lou Holtz (1977-78) to win his first 7 game against nonconference foes.
Here are 3 keys to keeping that record intact.
1. Return of KJ Jefferson
Arkansas is a slight favorite at BYU on Saturday, largely because Jefferson, the redshirt junior quarterback, has been cleared to play after sitting out a 40-17 loss to Mississippi State last week with a head injury. The Hogs’ leader is set to make his 21st career start and pump life back into the offense.
Just how valuable is he to this offense? Well, in 12 of his 20 career starts, Jefferson has led Arkansas to 30-plus points. He is 1 of only 2 SEC quarterbacks to throw for more than 1,000 yards (1,096) and run for more than 300 yards (312) this season.
A 100 percent recovery and return would include another big day from WR Jadon Haselwood. Jefferson to Haselwood has become a common thread in the Arkansas offense this season. The Oklahoma transfer leads the team with 27 receptions for 364 yards and 2 TDs. He has hauled in at least 3 passes in each game this season, and he has caught at least 1 pass in 18 consecutive games, dating back to the start of last season in Norman.
2. Ground and pound
The Razorbacks’ rushing attack is 3rd in the SEC and 11th nationally, averaging 233.8 yards per game. They’ve had a 100-yard rusher in a program-record 7 consecutive games, going back to last season.
Jefferson is the trigger, but “Rocket” Sanders has been the catalyst. He leads the SEC with 695 yards (5 TDs) and has rushed for 100-plus yards in 4 games this season. The multitalented RB has also caught 14 passes for 185 yards (1 TD) and is 1 of only 3 FBS players with 600-plus rushing yards and 100-plus receiving yards.
The Jefferson-Sanders combination is 1 of only 3 duos in the SEC with 300-plus rushing yards and 4-plus rushing touchdowns this season. It will need to take advantage against a BYU rush defense that ranks 97th nationally, giving up 172.17 yards per game on the ground.
3. Attack and sack
Arkansas leads the SEC and ranks 12th nationally in sacks (21). Linebacker Drew Sanders is the ringleader with 6.5 of his own, tops in the SEC and tied for 2nd in FBS. The Alabama transfer has emerged as a kingpin in the Razorbacks’ attacking defense.
Although they didn’t do much of that last week against the SEC’s top passer, Will Rogers, a return to a more aggressive approach will be needed on Saturday. That’s especially true against BYU quarterback Jaren Hall, who wasn’t 100 percent healthy last week in a 28-20 loss to Notre Dame. It was a game in which Hall threw a career-low 17 passes.
Eight different Razorbacks have recorded sacks this season, including 1 by senior LB Bumper Pool, who last week became Arkansas’ all-time leader in total tackles with 409, surpassing Tony Bua (2000-03) by 1.