Arkansas football: Handing out team superlatives for the 2021-22 season
An 8-4 season for Arkansas under 2nd-year head coach Sam Pittman is one of the feel-good stories of college football. The sudden rise to respectability was accomplished by a true team effort from the coaching staff to the players themselves. Let’s hand out some awards for that breakthrough campaign.
Team MVP: KJ Jefferson
Great programs have to have a great triggerman to get things started. With Jefferson at the controls, the Razorbacks were potent on offense, especially on the ground. And Jefferson contributed there as well. Second on a team that ranked 2nd in the SEC in rushing, Jefferson accounted for more than 3,000 total yards this season.
Offensive MVP: Jefferson
For the reasons just described, Jefferson gets the nod. You could make a legitimate argument for receiver Treylon Burks, but how do you overlook a quarterback who threw for 2,578 yards and 21 touchdowns with just 3 interceptions while completing 67 percent of his passes, in addition to rushing for 554 yards and 5 TDs?
Defensive MVP: Bumper Pool/Grant Morgan/Hayden Henry
The senior linebacker trio played as one throughout the season, so singling out just one would not do the others justice. The trio led the Razorbacks’ defense not only in leadership but also total tackles. They finished 1-2-3, with Pool leading the way (120) followed by Morgan (96) and Henry (95).
Not surprisingly, they were also 1-2-3 in tackles for loss, with Henry (10.5) leading the way.
True Freshman of the Year: Cam Little
The Razorbacks’ kicker led the team in scoring with an even 100 points. He made a pair of field goals in the finale against Missouri to bring his total to 19, the 4th most in a season in school history.
Transfer of the Year: John Ridgeway
The defensive lineman was one of a handful of impactful transfers for Pittman and the Razorbacks. The transfer from Illinois State recorded 39 tackles for Arkansas, including 4 for loss. Those stats also include 2 sacks in 11 games played on the Hogs’ defensive line.
Most Improved: Jefferson
The sophomore has come a long way in a short time. He grabbed the controls of the Arkansas offense and ran (as well as threw) with it. His rushing yardage improved over last year by nearly 500 yards, and his passing yardage improved by more than 2,000 over 5 games played last season.
Biggest Surprise: Win total
We all probably anticipated the Razorbacks would improve on last season’s 3-7 mark. We could see what Pittman was doing in Fayetteville and the impact he was having on the program. Some of us even went out on a limb and predicted the Razorbacks would win enough games to qualify for a bowl.
But there weren’t many who could have seen this kind of turnaround; at least not this fast. Eight victories with an SEC schedule are tough to accomplish for any program. For one that was supposed to be improving steadily, it exceeded all expectations.
Play of the Year: Fake field goal
There were many sparkling plays this season, but the fake field goal against Alabama that went for a touchdown was perhaps the most memorable.
Punter Reid Bauer lined up in normal punt formation on a 4th-down play against the Tide in the 4th quarter of a game that looked like it might be another Bama rout. But instead of giving up and punting the ball back to the Tide, Bauer charged the line of scrimmage and delivered a jump pass — his only career pass — to tight end Blake Kern, who made a nice catch and raced to the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown that got the Hogs back in the contest.
Win of the Year: Taking down Texas
Isn’t it nice to have so many to choose from that it takes a while to try to figure it out?
The 49-21 victory over then-No. 15 Texas on Sept. 11 launched the season for Arkansas. It was the 2nd game of the season, and it proved to the college football world that Arkansas was a team to be reckoned with.