Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Jefferson leads Razorbacks to season-opening win over No. 23 Cincinnati
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson (1) runs for a touchdown during a game against Cincinnati on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Prior to Saturday, Arkansas’ football team had only beaten a ranked opponent once in a season opener.
Now it has doubled that total.
The 19th-ranked Razorbacks defeated No. 23 Cincinnati 31-24 before an announced crowd of 74,751 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in one of college football’s marquee games of Week 1.
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson accounted for four touchdowns and the Razorbacks’ defense set up two scoring drives with turnovers.
Jefferson’s 15-yard touchdown run in the first quarter came three plays following a 51-yard interception return by Dwight McGlothern to the Cincinnati 29. Jefferson got a pancake block from receiver Matt Landers near the goal line and ran to the end zone untouched to give Arkansas a 7-0 lead.
In the fourth quarter, Jordan Domineck strip-sacked Cincinnati quarterback Ben Bryant and recovered the fumble at the Bearcats’ 49. That set up a 32-yard touchdown pass from Jefferson to tight end Trey Knox two plays later that put the Razorbacks ahead 31-17 with 9:26 remaining.
Jefferson completed 18 of 26 passes for 223 yards and 3 touchdowns, and rushed 18 times for 62 yards and 1 touchdown. He converted two third downs with his legs on Arkansas’ final drive that lasted nearly six minutes and iced the game.
Cincinnati pulled within 31-24 on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Bryant to Leonard Taylor with 5:49 remaining. The Bearcats bottled up running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders on the first two plays of Arkansas’ ensuing drive, but Jefferson rushed for 14 yards on third-and-9 to extend the possession. Three plays later, Jefferson rushed for six yards on third-and-2.
The Razorbacks out-gained the Bearcats 447-436, including 224-111 on the ground.
Sanders carried 20 times for 117 yards to lead Arkansas' ground game. Knox was the leading receiver with 7 catches for 75 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Bryant completed 26 of 43 passes for 325 yards and 2 touchdowns in his first start for the Bearcats, but also had several overthrown passes when receivers were behind the Arkansas secondary.
Cincinnati kicker Ryan Coe missed two field goals in the first half after Arkansas had taken the lead. The second miss, from 48 yards, gave the Razorbacks possession with 1:14 remaining in the second quarter, and Jefferson engineered a 7-play, 70-yard drive that resulted in a 5-yard touchdown pass to Knox that put Arkansas ahead 14-0 at halftime.
The Bearcats scored on their first drive of the third quarter, capped by a 5-yard touchdown run by Corey Kiner to cut the deficit to 14-7.
The Razorbacks responded with their own 75-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 19-yard pass from Jefferson to Jadon Haselwood.
Cincinnati pulled within 21-14 on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Bryant to Nick Mardner with 6:50 remaining in the third quarter. The Bearcats twice targeted Arkansas cornerback LaDarrius Bishop on the drive and completed both passes for 65 yards against him.
It appeared Cincinnati might tie the game when Jefferson fumbled near his goal line on the next drive, but four pre-snap penalties backed up the Bearcats and they settled for a 26-yard field goal by Coe.
Cam Little kicked a 32-yard field goal for the Razorbacks with 1:28 remaining in the third quarter to extend the lead to 24-17.
Arkansas defeated a ranked opponent in the season opener for the first time since 1974, when the Razorbacks beat No. 5 Southern Cal 22-7 in Little Rock. Arkansas was playing a game between ranked opponents in Fayetteville for the first time in program history.
The Razorbacks are scheduled to host South Carolina next Saturday at 11 a.m.
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