FAYETTEVILLE — Sam Pittman continues to be impressed with the way redshirt junior quarterback KJ Jefferson is playing this season.
Jefferson is coming off a very big game at BYU when he completed 29 of 40 passes for 367 yards and five touchdowns. He even added 32 yards on the ground with 10 carries. Jefferson didn’t throw during the bye week, but got back into action on Monday.
“He’s been great,” Pittman said. “Has a lot of zip on the ball. Very accurate. He’s had a really, really strong week. That’s kind of what we felt he would do, but he’s been really good. Really consistent. Been a good leader. Had a nice two days thus far.”
Pittman talked about where Jefferson has evolved from last season when he led the team to a 9-4 mark and victory in the Outback Bowl over Penn State.
“A lot of confidence,” Pittman said. “I think he understands the offense better. His percentage of accuracy on reads has gone up. I think it just has a lot to do with his confidence and being another year as a starter and the guy and all those things. I’ve seen a lot of better throws, more zip on the ball. I just think he’s a much better quarterback.”
Late in the first half at BYU, Jefferson broke out of at least three tackles and found tight end Trey Knox for a 36-yard gain to the BYU 22-yard line. The Hogs scored three plays later and went up 31-21 at intermission.
“I think any quarterback, I don’t know this, but I believe that any quarterback knows who their go-to guy is,” Pittman said. “I think Trey’s become that guy, that constant for KJ, just as (Treylon) Burks was last year. If anything broke down, he’s just going to throw the ball to Burks. I think Trey’s earned that right. He’s catching the ball well. I about called for the punt team on that particular play because there was no way… He disappeared from my view and came out of it.
“Then when Trey caught it, he was still short of the first down and made a really nice run, broke a couple tackles, to get the ball down another 20 yards or so. So I think they have a really good rapport, they trust each other, and that’s usually when you play well, when you trust the other man, whether he’s next to you or whether he’s running routes, anything of that nature. So I think they have a great camaraderie between the two of them, a lot of respect between the two of them.”
Jefferson has had some outstanding games on the road in his career. At Missouri in 2020 when he filled in for the injured Feleipe Franks, Jefferson completed 18 of 33 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed 13 times for 32 yards and one touchdown. Then at Ole Miss in 2021 Jefferson completed 25 of 35 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed 20 times for 85 yards and three more touchdowns. Then he had the big game at BYU.
“Well, I think some guys are just built that way,” Pittman said. “Some guys embrace that situation when you go into… almost some guys play better on the road just because they’re the guy on the team, and they’re getting booed, all this kind of stuff. They embrace that, being the guy. I think that says a lot about KJ. Certainly, he’s a competitor and wants to do well at home and away, but I think that might just be some competitive emotions that he’s having there. You’re right, he really has played extremely well on the road.”
In the Auburn game last year in Razorback Stadium, the Tigers took a 38-23 win. Jefferson completed 21 of 35 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed 18 times for 66 yards. Pittman didn’t feel that was one of Jefferson’s better games.
“KJ didn’t play well against Auburn last year,” Pittman said. “I think that’s a driving force for him. Obviously, they did some things that had success against us and him. Auburn’s a team we haven’t beaten six times in a row. It’s a big deal to us, and I’m sure it is to them to continue that streak.
“I think it is personal to our guys. We’ve got guys on our team, we’ve got Dalton Wagner who has been here six seasons, and we haven’t beaten them. That’s a credit to them and their program. But yeah, I think there’s a little more incentive. We’ve got to win. It’s going to be very difficult. But to answer your question, yes. I do feel in practice that we understand that Auburn has embarrassed us six years in a row, and we’d like to not make it the seventh, but we’ve got to go play well.”
Pittman feels the Hogs may have some new wrinkles in for Jefferson and the team following the bye week. He’s also aware of Auburn may do the same since they too had a bye week.
“I do, and you know, they’ve done some things,” Pittman said. “They faked a punt early in the Georgia game, and they’ve done some things special teams-wise. They’ve had some trick plays even late in the game at LSU and things of that nature. It’s not like a bowl game because you have more preparation time and you’re not as worried about injuries and all that stuff during bowl prep because you’ve had a 10-day span before you go back to practice. So it’s a little bit different, but I’m certainly will I’m certain that will say something out of the ordinary from them.”
For the season, Jefferson has completed 109 of 161 passes for 1,463 yards, 14 touchdowns and only one interception. He also has rushed 91 times for 344 yards and four touchdowns.
Arkansas and Auburn will kickoff at 11 a.m. and televised on the SEC Network on Saturday.