No. 21 Arkansas didn’t beat No. 2 Alabama, but they made the 20.5-point favorite play for 60 minutes on Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium before finally prevailing 42-35.
The game wasn’t settled until an onside kick attempt by Arkansas went out of bounds with 1:02 remaining in the game. Both offenses put on a show Saturday with neither quarterback, Arkansas’ KJ Jefferson nor Alabama’s Bryce Young throwing an interception. Jefferson was 22 of 30 for 326 yards and three touchdowns (one was incorrectly overturned or he would have had four). Sam Pittman talked about Jefferson after the game.
“First of all, I felt like the line protected pretty well for him,” Pittman said. “He obviously got away from some pressure. Isn’t he just getting better every week? I wouldn’t trade him. As a character and a player. I thought he was outstanding. He had some good runs in there tonight. He’s just a tough guy. I’m glad he’s our quarterback. To go out there and do what he did tonight, you wouldn’t have mentioned it if it wasn’t outstanding. It certainly was. I think he came out of it, he’s probably sore, but I think he came out of it okay. We have a short week, so I certainly hope he did. I’m so proud of him. Look at the first game to now, consecutive weeks with how he’s played, I’m glad he’s our quarterback.”
As usual, Jefferson’s favorite target was junior wide receiver Treylon Burks. He caught eight passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns in the game despite playing with an injured shoulder.
“I think he’s probably beat up, but he just kept coming back,” Pittman said. “He won a lot of one-on-one matchups tonight, and KJ got the ball to him. But he’s a tough, great player, but a better person. I’ll tell you what, he had a heck of a game tonight.”
Jefferson praised Burks after the game as well.
“Treylon had a great game today,” Jefferson said. “We both got in the film room and looked at the stuff we can correct. Just me and him,1-on-1, on stuff we could do to help the offense move the ball down the field. Today I just gave him a chance, and he made plays.”
Jefferson and Burks seemed to develop great chemistry last season also in Game 9 when they played Missouri. Jefferson filled in for the injured Feleipe Franks and hit Burks for 10 completions for 206 yards and one touchdown.
“Just knowing each other,” Jefferson said. “We room together. We came in together. Stayed together. Just knowing that chemistry that we have, and that close-knit bond that we have, on the field we’re always thinking the same thing. That’s a motivation, a boost and an advantage.”
Pittman also talked about the chemistry between Jefferson and Burks.
“They’re very, very close friends, and I think both of them trust each other,” Pittman said. “And that’s a good thing for the Hogs.”
With 10:09 remaining in the third quarter and the Razorbacks down 31-14 and facing a third-and-one play at their own 34, Jefferson found Burks for a 66-yard touchdown.
“We saw the man coverage one on one press corner and I was just reading the safety, tried not to let the safety make a play on the ball and then I just gave Treylon a chance and it just went from there,” Jefferson said.
Arkansas fell to Alabama 52-3 to Alabama last season in Fayetteville. Arkansas obviously has made a lot of strides in the year since that game.
“We’re in a great spot,” Jefferson said. “Alabama’s a great team. And just going to the wire with a great team like that let’s us know we’re headed in the right direction. We just want to keep progressing and keep being who we are and keep playing Arkansas football.”
Super senior linebacker Grant Morgan led the Razorbacks with 11 tackles and had two quarterback hurries. Morgan also talked about the performance of Burks.
“Treylon Burks is the same guy every single day,” Morgan said. “When y’all see him after a big game or y’all see him after a loss, he’s that same guy every single day. He’s so hungry for wins and that’s kind of the common factor of our football team. We have guys that are just wanting to win football games. That’s why we’re being successful and we’re playing the No. 2 team in the nation at their place and doing well. I expect him to have a great game every game because he’s a one-of-a-kind player. You saw the one where he got PI, we thought he caught it. He’s just a guy you’re throwing him the ball, you know the play’s for him, you know he’s going to go do his job and get it. We’re witnessing a guy right now who’s one-of-a-kind. I knew he was going to have a great game like I do every single week. I expect him to do good just because that’s how he handles himself and that’s what he expects of himself, too.”
Following the game, Pittman praised Alabama, but also was proud of his team even in defeat.
“Well, obviously we played a really good team tonight,’ Pittman said. “They’re the University of Alabama. They’re a very, very physical football team. Obviously they have a Heisman Trophy candidate throwing the ball, and they did an outstanding job. Jameson Williams is a special, special player. But I was very proud of the way we kept coming back, the physicality of our program, and we did not come here to lose by 7. We came to win the game and I think you could see that by the way that we played. We just ran into a team that was 7 points better than us tonight. They had their team ready to play, and congratulations to Alabama, I believe they won the West tonight.”
Arkansas (7-4, 3-4) will host Missouri (6-5, 3-4) on Friday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium at 2:30 p.m. and also televised on CBS. The Tigers beat Florida 24-23 in overtime today.