FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson will go into the Outback Bowl without his favorite wide receiver Treylon Burks.
In his first year as the starter, Jefferson has completed 184 of 275 passes for 2,578 yards and three interceptions this season. It’s also to point out one of the interceptions came at the end of the first half against Ole Miss when Jefferson threw a Hail Mary and it was picked off. He also rushed 126 times for 554 yards and five touchdowns. He was asked Thursday night about what he’s expecting from the wide receivers without Burks?
“For this bowl game, I just feel like it’s time for the young guys to step up with Treylon out,” Jefferson said. “Everybody is going to get their opportunity. For the younger guys, their opportunity is in front of them right now with Treylon stepping away. Just want to make sure those young guys feel as comfortable as possible and confident also. I always tell them, ‘This is your opportunity, make the most of it. Have fun. You’ve been playing football since you were little, so there’s nothing much to it. Just have fun and play ball.”
Arkansas signed three wide receivers in the Class of 2021. Ketron Jackson played while Bryce Stephens and Jaedon Wllson redshirted. Stephens did play in three games and will see action in the bowl game, but since that will just be his fourth game he can still redshirt. Jefferson talked about those three freshmen.
“For Ketron, I mean he’s just mature,” Jefferson said. “Coming in, when he came in, he was battling. He was coming off I think an ACL injury, so I mean just getting him healthy, 100% healthy, and just keeping him around, keeping him coming to throwing with me and the first team guys, getting a couple of reps here and there and building his confidence up for him to play college ball. He’s just matured over the course of time. He’s played in some big-time games, made some big-time catches and stuff. So, Ketron, I mean, he’s having a great year so far. For those younger guys. Jaedon and Bryce, those guys are mature. As far as these bowl practices have been going, they’ve been doing some great stuff on the outside. Just making sure I’m getting the ball and letting them play ball.”
Two super seniors at wide receiver have been outstanding this season and they will have another chance to shine in the Outback Bowl. Tyson Morris has caught 21 passes for 305 yards and two touchdowns whlle De’Vion Warren added 13 receptions for 219 yards.
“Just having that leadership,” Jefferson said. “Being here and playing football and knowing how everything works. Seeing different types of fronts and knowing where everybody’s supposed to be. There leadership, just getting those young guys to follow them in the right direction and knowing those guys are never leading them in the wrong way. They’re mentors basically. They’re teachers on and off the field. Just looking up for those guys, and looking for those guys to come back and give some wisdom and knowledge to those younger guys moving forward is a huge advantage.”
The Razorbacks have averaged 223.6 yards passing and 217.3 rushing this season thus featuring a balanced offense. Jefferson was quick to credit that success to someone else.
“Just the O-line I have,” Jefferson said. “They’re a veteran group up front. Those guys being able to sort out different defenses to create running lanes for me and the running backs. Open lanes up for us to carry the ball and also for me for to be able to stay back there in the pocket confident, knowing the those guys up front and the running backs are going to hold their blocks for an extra second and let me get the ball to the playmakers in space.
“I just give all the credit to those guys up front. The stuff they’ve done over the season and how far they’ve come. They’ve just battled through some injuries and some guys being moved around, showing their versatilities. Having those guys up front, a veteran group, what more can you ask for?”
Running back Trelon Smith puts some praise back on Jefferson for the explosive offense this season.
“KJ had a wonderful season,” Smith said. “I believe KJ came in and did exactly what he was supposed to do. I feel like he stepped up to the plate after Franks left, and he’s a true leader on this team. He proved everybody wrong. All the critics. All the doubters. They had him last on the list with the quarterbacks in the SEC, and he proved everybody wrong. He’s a true leader and a true champion.”
While Jefferson’s focus is on the Outback Bowl he admitted how excited he is about OU transfer Jadon Haselwood coming in at wide receiver.
“Uh, just extremely excited,” Jefferson said. “I can’t wait. Like you said, I won’t get too far ahead. But just knowing the type of guy he is and the type of skill set that he brings and the leadership and him just being able to play in big games and knowing how to operate and just make sure those guys coming in he can be a leader for those guys on the outside, making sure they’re grasping everything and just maturing.”
Haselwood is a former five-star recruit out of high school where he played for Jimmy Smith at Ellenwood (Ga.) Cedar Grove High School. He led OU this season with 39 receptions that went for 399 yards and six touchdowns.