Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Like It Is:
Pittman gets back to work after wild game
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman arrives to Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium prior to the Liberty Bowl game against Kansas on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Memphis, Tenn.
MEMPHIS — What started out on a high note ended here with a sigh of relief.
After beating Cincinnati, South Carolina and Missouri State to open the season, it appeared the Arkansas Razorbacks had picked up where they left off last season when they went 9-4, including a win over Penn State in the Outback Bowl.
The Hogs would finish the regular season 6-6, and if not for a weird fumble and return for a touchdown against Texas A&M and a series of injuries to key players, they would have been maybe 8-4.
After the regular-season-ending loss to Missouri, players bolted for the transfer portal or took a pass on the bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft — so no one really knew what to expect when the Razorbacks took on Kansas on Wednesday night in the Liberty Bowl.
Coach Sam Pittman had said there will be a lot of new faces, and he was brutally honest, but there would be no excuses. He was playing the hand he dealt until the final card.
It quickly became apparent that the Hogs were healthy.
Taking advantage of turnovers, the Razorbacks roared to a 31-13 halftime lead, rolling up 378 yards of offense — 202 on the ground despite losing starting running back Raheim Sanders after just three carries.
There was no drop off. True freshman Rashod Dubinion finished with 112 yards rushing and sophomore AJ Green had 99.
The difference-maker, though, was quarterback KJ Jefferson, who had the pep back in his step as he ran 14 times for 130 yards and 2 touchdowns.
He also completed 19 of 29 passes for 287 yards and 2 touchdowns.
For his work, he was named the Most Valuable Player of the Game and Arkansas’ Offensive Player of the Game.
As time passes, all that will be remembered is the final score, but it was about as crazy of a game as anyone had ever seen. By the time it finally ended with Arkansas on top 55-53 — after being outscored 18-0 in the fourth quarter — the teams had set 24 Liberty Bowl records.
Chuck Gallina, who tallied the numbers, probably had a sore writing hand Thursday.
The teams combined for 60 first downs and 1,284 yards of total offense.
Arkansas ran 81 plays and Kansas 90, but the final play of the game was something the Jayhawks had not run.
Saying they had success through the air would be an understatement as Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels completed 37 of 55 passes for 544 yards and 5 touchdowns.
In the second half, he hit 23 of 35 for 342 yards.
By rule, if a game reaches the third overtime, teams get one shot at converting a two-point play.
Jefferson hit Dubinion to start the third overtime.
A loud crowd 52,847 expected the Jayhawks to pass, and so did the Razorbacks.
And they did, but it was not Daniels.
Instead Jason Bean, a backup at quarterback and wide receiver, took a pitch from Daniels, rolled right and without planting his feet launched a pass that sailed out of the end zone.
And just like that, a game that took 4 hours, 16 minutes to play was finished, and the Razorbacks — many who got their first substantial playing time of the season — had survived Kansas’ crazy comeback.
The season was in the books at 7-6 for Arkansas and was the first SEC bowl win of the season.
Pittman is 2-0 in bowls as Arkansas’ head coach, but by Thursday morning he wasn’t thinking about that. As he said at Tuesday’s news conference, he has transfer portal scholarships to offer and work to do.
The game was historical as far as records go. But for Pittman and his staff, it is history.
Their every thought is about filling the holes and getting ready for next season.
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