Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Jefferson’s INT-free streak at 170 passes
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson (1) throws a pass against Alabama during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
FAYETTEVILLE — KJ Jefferson has quietly assembled the second-best streak of passes without an interception by a University of Arkansas quarterback during the second half of the 2021 season.
The sophomore from Sardis, Miss., threw his last interception on a Hail Mary heave into the end zone on the final play of the first half during a 52-51 loss at Ole Miss in Week 6.
Since then, Jefferson has thrown 170 consecutive passes without an interception over the final 6 1/2 games of the regular season to reach second in the UA record books.
Tyler Wilson holds the record with 184 consecutive passes without an interception during the 2011 season. Wilson pulled off his feat in four full games and parts of two others.
Following DeQuan Menzie’s 25-yard interception return for a touchdown at Alabama, Wilson threw 18 passes without an interception during a 38-14 loss to the Crimson Tide. He then went full games without a pick against Texas A&M (51 passes), Auburn (36), Ole Miss (28) and Vanderbilt (43) before South Carolina’s Devin Taylor picked off his ninth pass of the game and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown in the Razorbacks’ 44-28 win at Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Nov. 5, 2011.
Jefferson has thrown 21 touchdown passes against just three interceptions this season, and opponents have returned those picks for a total of 9 yards. Only Texas converted a Jefferson interception into a touchdown.
Rice’s Sean Fresch picked off a Jefferson out-route pass at the sideline and went out of bounds for no gain early in the second quarter of Arkansas 45-17 victory in the season opener. Texas safety B.J. Foster grabbed an underthrown slant for Ketron Jackson Jr. and brought it back 9 yards to set up a 26-yard touchdown drive in the Razorbacks’ 40-21 rout in Week 2. Ole Miss defensive back Keidron Smith came down with Jefferson’s Hail Mary in the end zone as time ran out in the first half.
Jefferson surpassed a streak of 146 passes without an interception in 2016 by Austin Allen during the Razorbacks’ 42-35 loss at No. 2 Alabama.
The Razorbacks will enter the bowl season ranked in all three major polls after landing in the No. 22 spot in the final regular season College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday night.
Arkansas (8-4, 4-4 SEC) rose three spots after dispatching Missouri 34-17 last Friday. The Razorbacks are the highest-ranked four-loss team in the poll and the fourth of sixth SEC teams.
The Razorbacks are a candidate for the Citrus Bowl along with No. 23 Kentucky and No. 25 Texas A&M as the highest-ranked SEC team behind No. 1 Georgia, No. 3 Alabama and No. 8 Ole Miss, which are all eligible for the College Football Playoff and the New Year’s Six bowl games. They are also thought to be in the conversation for two other Florida-based bowls: The Outback and Gator.
Arkansas is ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press top 25 and No. 25 in the USA Today coaches poll. The Razorbacks have been in the CFP rankings four consecutive weeks.
Brown for 5
Senior cornerback Montaric Brown had interceptions in two of the past three games to reach five for the season, tying the highest single-season total at Arkansas in the past 28 years.
No Razorback has had more than five interceptions in a season since Orlando Watters picked off six passes in 1993. Since then, six Arkansas players have registered five interceptions in a season: Spencer Brown (1995), Marcus Campbell (1996), Zac Painter (1998), Jerell Norton (2007), Tramain Thomas (2011) and Brown this season.
Both of Brown’s interceptions against LSU and Missouri proved consequential. He snared a fade pass by Garrett Nussmeier in the end zone in overtime at LSU, leading to Cam Little’s game-winning field goal four plays later in a 16-13 win.
Arkansas cashed in Brown’s interception on a fade pass by Missouri quarterback Connor Bazelak by scoring on Raheim Sanders’ 7-yard run on a pitch by Treylon Burks four plays after the pick at the Missouri 47.
Arkansas sophomore Vito Calvaruso was deemed to have the best kickoff grade in college football by Pro Football Focus College.
The criteria for PFF’s grading was not available. Calvaruso, a sophomore from Jefferson City, Mo., has 63 touchbacks on 74 kickoffs for a touchback rate of 85.14% that ranks fifth in the nation and third in the SEC behind Missouri’s Sean Koetting (90%) and LSU’s Avery Atkins (85.25%).
Calvaruso ranks fourth in the NCAA in average kickoff distance at 64.77 yards.
Wright in the portal
Arkansas defensive lineman Solomon Wright has entered the transfer portal. The true freshman from Vian, Okla., has not played a snap this season in what turned into a deep front for the Razorbacks.
Wright, a 6-0, 270-pounder, chose the Razorbacks over scholarship offers from Missouri and a selection of Big 12 schools in Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Kansas, as well as Memphis.
Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman admitted after the game he was angry at halftime of the Razorbacks’ 34-17 win over Missouri last Friday.
Arkansas held a 10-6 lead over the Tigers at halftime after not playing particularly well on either side of the ball.
“We just talked about, ‘Hey, we get the ball back,’ ” Pittman said he told Arkansas players at halftime. “I was mad, I’ll be honest with you. I was disappointed.
“I didn’t think we were playing with a lot of energy and I let them know. That’s my job. But I don’t think the halftime speech is why we played better. I think the coaches made a change and said, ‘Hey, let’s tee it up and let it fly and see what happens.’ ”
After a three and out on its first series of the second half, Arkansas scored on back-to-back quick drives. Trelon Smith’s 4-yard touchdown run capped a three-play sequence set up by De’Vion Warren’s 55-yard gain on a tunnel screen. KJ Jefferson beat blitz pressure with a 52-yard deep-ball touchdown pass to Treylon Burks on a two-play sequence that ended with the Razorbacks leading 24-6.
KJ Jefferson’s career-best 49-yard run on Arkansas’ first possession against Missouri tied the longest run of the season for the Hogs.
Wideout Treylon Burks had a 49-yard touchdown run around right end in Arkansas’ 45-3 victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Jefferson’s run was the longest by an Arkansas quarterback since Matt Jones’ 72-yarder against Ole Miss in 2004.
Take him out
Sam Pittman acted swiftly after Dominique Johnson’s laborious 4-yard run on Arkansas’ first offensive snap of the third quarter last Friday.
“Looks to me like he’s got a leg injury,” Pittman said. “He got 4, but it was a nasty looking 4 and we said, ‘Hey we’ve got to get him out.’ ”
Johnson started the game and finished with six carries for 19 yards.
Pittman said it’s more likely a player with a minor injury can get hurt more seriously and because the Razorbacks have good depth at tailback, it was important to get Johnson out.
Trelon Smith had six carries for 37 yards to lead the running backs against Missouri, while quarterback KJ Jefferson had 58 rushing yards.
Sam Pittman said defensive back Malik Chavis missed the Missouri game due to concussion protocols.
“I’m sure he’ll be back for whatever bowl invites us,” Pittman said.
Arkansas freshman Cam Little and Missouri sophomore Harrison Mevis combined to hit 5 of 5 field goals last Friday as two of the top kickers in the country.
Little, who hit from 36 and 23 yards, is 19 of 23 on field goals. Mevis, who hit from 46, 49 and 41, is 20 of 22.
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.