By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE — Redshirt junior quarterback KJ Jefferson and the offense had a productive scrimmage on Saturday as the team prepares for the season opener three weeks from today.

Jefferson completed 198 of 294 passes for 2,676 yards, 21 touchdowns and four interceptions while leading the team to a 9-4 record. Jefferson also was the leading rusher with 146 carries for 664 yards and six touchdowns. On Saturday, Sam Pittman talked about what the offense did well during the closed scrimmage.

“I thought, especially in third down and all over the place, 4, 8, 11, 9 (yards to gain), I thought our offensive line, 1-on-1, I thought they protected extremely well,” Pittman said. “We were 6 or 7 for 8 on offense, and our wideouts are getting open. Matt Landers had a good day, (Isaiah) Sategna had a good day. I’m talking about with some of the long balls. KJ threw the ball exceptionally well. Overall, Haselwood caught the ball well.

“Our wideouts right now, guys, are playing really well. 84 (Thompson) caught a touchdown. Our wideouts are playing good right now. I really like the young Sategna kid, I really like him. He did some really nice things today, as well. But we’ve got big wideouts, we’ve got a quarterback who’s getting it to them, we’re able to protect, and that’s, right now, that’s a good thing. Rocket (Sanders) did some nice things, blocked well, certainly. Had some nice runs in there. I don’t know who else I left out, but that’s kind of right off the top of my head.”

During Saturday’s scrimmage, Jefferson threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Landers and a 40-yard one to Warren Thompson. When Arkansas lost Treylon Burks, De’Vion Warren and Tyson Morris that was 105 receptions for 1,684 yards and 13 touchdowns departed. Pittman and most observers felt that wide receiver could be the biggest question on the team and certainly on offense. But Landers, Sategna, Jaedon Wilson and others have emerged this fall.

“Yes, I mean, (Jadon) Haselwood didn’t bring to that room in the spring what he’s bringing to it now,” {oittPart of that is, I’m sure, he was uncomfortable, didn’t know the guys. But then you take him and you take Matt Landers, and then whatever happened with 84, Warren (Thompson), whatever’s happened with him has been a wonderful thing. Maybe it’s these two older guys along with Ketron (Jackson), and now I think you’re piecing in Sategna. I like our young kids, too. That group, that unit there has went from the first eight practices from ‘Man, we’ve got a concern’ to ‘Man, somebody else has got a concern about our guys.’ Really pleased.”

The Razorbacks returned receivers that caught a combined 30 passes last season with 19 of those by Thompson. Jackson caught five passes while Jaquayln Crawford and Bryce Stephens each had three receptions. At Fayetteville High School in 2021, Sategna caught 100 passes for 1,908 yards and 17 touchdowns. Pittman talked about what impresses him with Sategna.

“He’s fast,” Pittman said. “I tell you what, he can cut on a dime now. The guy’s got great ball skills. He’s just a really good player. Sometimes if you’re not the biggest guy, you have to have special skills, and he has them. He can separate, really good hands. He doesn’t say a word now. He just comes to work everyday. I really like the kid, and I like him a lot. When he runs by people. I like him a little bit more. That’s what he has, he’s got super speed.”

Jefferson obviously also likes Sategna and gives him another target he can throw to deep.

“He has great ball skills,” Jefferson said. “Just being able to track the ball in the air and then just running up on it and going to make a play. For him to be that young coming in, he’s learning the plays really quick. Just being able to have great ball skills like he has at such a young age. So I would say ball skills for sure.”

The wide receiver position was thought to possibly be a weakness entering the season, but it now seems like it could be one of the strengths of the offense. Do you see that too?

“I was just talking to Bump (Pool) earlier about this,” Jefferson said. “Our receiver corps, they have come a long way. I mean, just being able to grasp the plays, and also just understand why we’re calling these certain type of plays and the situation that we’re in. So just being able to just have that mindset going into it, they’re really learning the system and actually knowing what’s going on. So just having a receiver room like we have here is an advantage.

“I mean, just iron sharpening iron. Those older guys are, they took those young guys under their wing and just being able to just iron sharpen iron and compete at a high level. It just raises everybody’s playing level and skill set. I mean, once you come in, and everybody’s working at a high-level, elite mindset, everybody’s just gonna get better as a unit. So that’s what happened.”

Jefferson also praised Thompson. He transferred in from Florida State prior to last year. Was going to walk on, but earned a scholarship before the season even started with his play in practice.

“Leadership,” Jefferson said. “I mean, just being able to just —those young guys like you said earlier about those young guys making strides. He’s one of those guys that’s in the front just being able to talk to those guys, pull them to the side and say ‘Hey, this is what we got. This is why he called this, let’s be able to reach the defense and know who you got to block.’ I would say just from Warren being leadership and just being confident.”

Haselwood topped the Oklahoma wide receivers in 2021 with 39 receptions for six touchdowns. The catches went for 399 yards. Haselwood caught a 25-yard pass from Jefferson on Saturday. Another player who formed a very good relationship on the field with Jefferson last season was tight end Trey Knox. He caught 20 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. On Saturday, Jefferson hooked up with Knox for 35 and 20 yard receptions.

“I mean just the connection that me and Trey have,” Jefferson said. “Just chemistry based off the plays that we do run, I know I can count on Trey to be at the right spot, the right position at the right time. Just being able to know Trey, down the field or anything like that, I know he can go up and body a DB or something like that. Just being able to give Trey a chance down the field and also on his routes I know they’re going to be crisp. So just being able to get the ball and put it on him quick and let him make a play.”

Pittman also has taken a liking to what Knox brings to the tight end spot. Blake Kern was outstanding for the Hogs there last year.

“I think he really gives us something there that we, nobody could possibly love Blake Kern more than I do,” Pittman said. “I love him. He just gives us a little bit more of a pass-catching guy. Blake Kern was one of the most-improved guys, in my opinion, on our team. I love him to death. But Trey, I think Trey gives us everything we like to have in the tight end position. And he’s working his way trying to get in shape. As you know, he had a back that was stiff on him and things of that nature. He’s always been a willing blocker. He hasn’t always been a great one, and now with his body that he is and working full time at tight end instead of moving him from wideout to tight end has really helped him. I think he’ll have some type of career playing tight end. I really do. I think he’s a good player.”

Raheim “Rocket” Sanders is the first-team running back. He also is a talented receiver out of the backfield. Sanders caught 11 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown last fall as a true freshman. He had a 25-yard reception on Saturday. Jefferson feels Sanders is also vastly improved in pass blocking.

“He’s learning,” Jefferson said. “I called the protection and he’s pointing everything out. Him and the o-line are on the same page. Him just being able to read his keys and then know where he’s got to block, where he’s got to get to. And even if the defense simulates some time of pressure he says, ‘KJ, hold on let me get on this side.’ So, being able to just be able to take the film, what he learns in the film room out to the field it translates to an advantage for Rocket.”

Malik Hornsby and Cade Fortin are both competing to backup Jefferson. Hornsby works at wide receiver as well and caught a couple of passes on Saturday. He also hit freshman tight end Tyrus Washington with a nice 25-yard pass.

“It’s a battle,” Pittman said. “It’s a good battle. I mean obviously Malik has so much to offer with speed and all those things. He got, Malik actually got several reps at wide receiver today as well, which allowed us to rest him a little bit and put Fortin in there. Fortin played with the twos some. Not all. He didn’t start with the twos, but he played some with the twos today and did a nice job. I like Fortin. So there’s a battle there at that spot at well. Like I said before, he allows us to do what we’ve been doing with Malik.”

Jefferson also talked about what he likes when Hornsby lines up at wide receiver.

“Just the athleticism he has and brings to the table,” Jefferson said. “Bumper will pretty much tell you when two quarterbacks on the field, you don’t know what’s going on or you don’t know who’s going to have the ball. So being able to just create chaos for the defensive side of the ball and having a guy like Malik with his athleticism and being able to hand him the ball and he stretches the defense where you don’t know if you’re going to throw the ball deep. Being able to have two quarterbacks on the field is an advantage. We like it.”

Arkansas will practice very early Monday morning.