Analyzing Arkansas' QB play vs. Mississippi State

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Wednesday, November 6, 2019
Arkansas quarterback K.J. Jefferson takes a snap during a game against Mississippi State on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Photo by David Beach
Arkansas quarterback K.J. Jefferson takes a snap during a game against Mississippi State on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in Fayetteville.

Ben Hicks vs. Mississippi State

At/Behind LOS: 0/0, 0 yards

1-5 yard throws: 2/5, 11 yards

6-10 yard throws: 1/3, 10 yards, INT

11-15 yard throws: 0/1, 0 yards

16+ yard throws: 1/4, 23 yards

Yards after catch: 11 (Grayson Gunter 4, Tyson Morris 3, Mike Woods 2, Trey Knox 2)

3rd down passing: 0/6, 0 yards, INT

Interceptable passes – not picked off but could have been: 2 (incomplete to Knox 4 yards downfield on first pass of the game; incomplete 22 yards downfield to Woods near end zone, replay overturned on-field ruling of an INT)

Inaccurate passes: 4 (incomplete to Treylon Burks 17 yards downfield on 3rd down, overthrown; incomplete to Burks 23 yards downfield on 3rd down, overthrown; incomplete to Woods 11 yards downfield on 3rd down, pass was low; incomplete to Woods 22 yards downfield near end zone, ruled an INT on the field but overturned)

Tipped at LOS: 1 (targeting Morris 5 yards downfield on 3rd down)

PBU: 0

Drops: 2 (Morris 7 yards downfield on 3rd down; Woods 4 yards downfield)

Analysis: Last Saturday marked Ben Hicks' fourth - and potentially final - start at Arkansas. It was also the fourth time Hicks completed less than 50 percent of his passes when beginning a game as the Razorbacks' quarterback. The only two times his completion percentage surged above 50 percent this season was in relief appearances when he filled in for either an injured or struggling Nick Starkel. Simply, Arkansas' offense was stuck in the mud against Mississippi State. Part of the issue was its ineffectiveness on early downs and poor efficiency on 3rd downs. Hicks, on six pass attempts, did not complete a pass on 3rd down. His final throw of the game was a pick-6, also on 3rd down. The Razorbacks ran only seven offensive plays in the first quarter last weekend, and three were Hicks passes: one interceptable on his very first throw, and two inaccurate balls to Treylon Burks 16-plus yards downfield. The unit was not in sync early, and Hicks was forced to call a timeout following just the third play from scrimmage. Then, out of the stoppage in play, Hicks threw incomplete as he backpedaled away from pressure. Burks and Knox's spacing on the play was less than ideal. I charted Hicks with four inaccurate passes and one ball batted down at the line of scrimmage to go with a pair of drops from Morris and Woods. Morris' drop came on 3rd down and would have extended Arkansas' second series in the first quarter. Hicks' two interceptable passes were his second most in a game this season. The first came after he stared down Knox on a 4-yard route, and the second was shortly after the Razorbacks were gifted great field position after the Bulldogs muffed a punt. Attempting to hit Woods in the end zone, he didn't put nearly enough on the throw, and it would have gone down as an interception had Jaquarius Landrews not lost control of the ball on his way to the turf. Another lackluster start from a graduate transfer has kickstarted the Razorbacks' youth movement at quarterback with John Stephen Jones and KJ Jefferson.

John Stephen Jones

At/Behind LOS: 1/1, -2 yards

1-5 yard throws: 1/4, 6 yards

6-10 yard throws: 0/0, 0 yards

11-15 yard throws: 2/4, 21 yards, TD

16+ yard throws: 0/0, 0 yards

Yards after catch: 1 (Chase Harrell 2, Morris -1)

3rd down passing: 1/3, -2 yards

Interceptable passes: 0

Inaccurate passes: 3 (incomplete to Harrell 3 yards downfield, pass was high; incomplete to Knox 3 yards downfield on 3rd down, pass was high and led Knox into traffic; incomplete to Knox 15 yards downfield, pass well behind Knox)

Tipped at LOS: 0

PBU: 1 (incomplete to Woods 5 yards downfield on 3rd down)

Drops: 1 (Knox 12 yards downfield on final pass of first half)

Analysis: After a large majority of John Stephen Jones' passes against Alabama came at or behind the line of scrimmage, we saw him take baby steps toward growing as a downfield passer. He completed two passes 11-plus yards at depth - a nice throw on the run to Morris near the first-down marker, and a beautifully thrown ball to Woods in the back corner of the end zone for a touchdown. The over-the-shoulder pass to Woods may be the best, most precise ball from an Arkansas quarterback this season. He certainly had his moments where he looked great through the air, but there were three inaccurate throws as well, including one on which Knox was open 15 yards downfield, but the pass was at least five yards behind. Could have been a communication error there. Following the Alabama game, Chad Morris said Jones made all the right moves in the read-option game. We saw more of the same Saturday against Mississippi State, and it's a key reason why he will make his first career start this weekend. Morris and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock love his decision making. He has thrown four inaccurate passes in limited time this season, but he has kept the ball out of harm's way in the passing game to this point, which is surely a point of emphasis considering Hicks and Starkel have combined for 17 interceptable throws. I am eager, like a lot of people are, to see what kind of success Jones can have as he takes the reins against Western Kentucky.

KJ Jefferson

At/Behind LOS: 0/1, 0 yards

1-5 yard throws: 0/0, 0 yards

6-10 yard throws: 0/0, 0 yards

11-15 yard throws: 0/0, 0 yards

16+ yard throws: 1/1, 32 yards

Yards after catch: 5 (Burks 5)

3rd down passing: 0/0

Interceptable passes: 0

Inaccurate passes: 1 (incomplete to A’Montae Spivey 1 yard behind LOS, pass sailed over the running back’s head)

Tipped at LOS: 0

PBU: 0

Drops: 0

Analysis: It is a bit difficult to put into words what KJ Jefferson's first drive at Arkansas was like. After he barreled into the end zone on his five-yard touchdown run, though, I leaned over to Seth Campbell, who was sitting to my right in the press box, and said, "That was intoxicating." Jefferson began his college career with a bang, leading a four-play, 75-yard scoring drive in under two minutes. And in that sequence, we saw his natural ability to operate the RPO game, his power in trucking a Mississippi State defensive back on play No. 1, and effortless arm talent. The throw to Burks at the Bulldogs' 5 was especially exciting, because that is probably what the future of the program looks like. It won't be the last time those two hook up for explosive plays, I'm sure. It is unfortunate that Jefferson's second drive ended abruptly with Spivey's fumble. Everyone wanted to get as good of a look as they could at how Jefferson guided the offense. That will come Saturday against Western Kentucky. Morris and Craddock both said this week they plan to insert the true freshman earlier than in Week 10. Jefferson still has a ways to go in terms of the passing game, exampled by the wild overthrow of Spivey, who was one yard behind the line of scrimmage, on his second attempt. All in all, though, it was a terrific debut for Jefferson. Now we get to see what he and Jones are capable of after taking the first-team reps in practice this week.

Up-to-date season stats

Nick Starkel

At/Behind LOS: 21/32, 81 yards, INT

1-5 yard throws: 28/37, 209 yards, TD, INT

6-10 yard throws: 22/40, 237 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT

11-15 yard throws: 11/24, 228 yards, 2 TD, INT

16+ yard throws: 11/36, 363 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Interceptable passes: 6

Inaccurate passes: 32

Ben Hicks

At/Behind LOS: 16/24, 57 yards

1-5 yard throws: 18/32, 145 yards

6-10 yard throws: 11/26, 159 yards, TD, INT

11-15 yard throws: 8/17, 101 yards, TD

16+ yard throws: 11/29, 264 yards, INT

Interceptable passes: 11

Inaccurate passes: 23

John Stephen Jones

At/Behind LOS: 7/7, 47 yards, TD

1-5 yard throws: 1/4, 6 yards

6-10 yard throws: 0/1, 0 yards

11-15 yard throws: 2/4, 21 yards, TD

16+ yard throws: 0/0, 0 yards

Interceptable passes: 0

Inaccurate passes: 4

KJ Jefferson

At/Behind LOS: 0/1, 0 yards

1-5 yard throws: 0/0, 0 yards

6-10 yard throws: 0/0, 0 yards

11-15 yard throws: 0/0, 0 yards

16+ yard throws: 1/1, 32 yards

Interceptable passes: 0

Inaccurate passes: 1

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