Best and Worst of Arkansas football in 2022

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Saturday, January 14, 2023
Arkansas receiver Matt Landers catches a touchdown during a game against Ole Miss on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Fayetteville.
( Hank Layton, NWA Democrat-Gazette )
Arkansas receiver Matt Landers catches a touchdown during a game against Ole Miss on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — New coaches and a vastly revamped roster will be two of the more notable changes for the Arkansas Razorbacks when winter conditioning work begins soon.

University of Arkansas football had one of its biggest “what-if” seasons in recent memory in 2022, capping the 7-6 campaign with a thrilling 55-53 win in triple overtime against Kansas in the Liberty Bowl to snap a four-game losing streak in one-score games.

The one-score games are where the bulk of the “what-ifs” reside.

If quarterback KJ Jefferson hadn’t leapt from the 3-yard line against Texas A&M, leading to an unfathomable Aggies touchdown. If Ricky Stromberg hadn’t snapped the ball off his backside, leading to a 9-yard loss, and if Cam Little had booted through a 40-yard field goal. All of those are just from one game, a 23-21 loss to Texas A&M.

In a 21-19 loss to Liberty, if only Jefferson had been feeling better and the Razorbacks had solved the Flames’ line stunts the outcome could have been different.

Against LSU, if only Jefferson had been available and if the Razorbacks could have scored a touchdown from the 1-yard line to go ahead 10-0, the Hogs could have logged their biggest upset of the year.

In the season finale, if Arkansas had just scored a touchdown from the 1 against Missouri rather than a field goal, perhaps another victory was in the making.

Win two of those games and Arkansas might be sitting at 9-4, same record as last season, and still viewed as a potential up-and-comer in the SEC West.

As it stands, the Razorbacks are another team in the pack chasing Alabama, LSU and the top of the toughest division in college football.

The return of Jefferson and 1,443-yard rusher Raheim Sanders for offensive coordinator Kendal Briles behind veteran returnees on the offensive line like Brady Latham and Beaux Limmer is a solid starting point for 2023. But the Razorbacks will have a new defensive scheme under first-year coordinator Travis Williams and plenty of holes to fill on that side of the ball and at wide receiver.

Arkansas’ offensive prowess and balance last fall, despite having a healthy Jefferson for 10 games at best, was beyond notable and into the realm of exceptional.

The Razorbacks were one of just three FBS teams along with Ole Miss and UCLA, to average 230 yards rushing and passing. It’s the first time Arkansas has pulled off that feat en route to compiling 6,128 yards, the second-highest total in school history.

On the other side of the ball, Williams will be tasked with finding answers for a team that finished dead last in passing defense, ranking 131st in the FBS in allowing a school-record 294.7 yards per game while also breaking Arkansas’ single-season record with 42 sacks.

What follows is the best and worst of Arkansas football 2022:

Best win

Clearly this belongs to the 42-27 win over Ole Miss on Nov. 19 with bowl eligibility at stake. Arkansas raced to a 42-6 lead before tapping the breaks on its hurry-up offense.

Despite allowing a jaw-dropping 703 yards to the Rebels — 216 of them in the fourth quarter — the Razorbacks managed 503 yards total offense, including 335 on the ground.

A close second: A 52-35 rout of BYU in Provo, Utah, when the Razorbacks scored on eight consecutive possessions and were denied from the 1-yard line in trying to make it nine in a row.

Worst loss

Easy. The 23-21 setback against Texas A&M prevented Arkansas from opening 4-0 for the second consecutive year and strangled the momentum from a hot start that saw the Hogs reach No. 10 in The Associated Press Top 25. The loss featured a failure inside the Texas A&M 3-yard line that would turn into a bugaboo theme that haunted the Hogs. Sam Pittman could have saved himself a couple of timeouts in the closing minutes in case Little’s field goal went awry, and the muffed snap meant costly lost yardage.

Second place was a 21-19 loss to Liberty at home. Arkansas could have won its third straight game after road wins at BYU and Auburn, but it could not overcome a slow start. Coach Sam Pittman’s streak of non-conference wins to open his tenure ended at eight, and it would now be at 10 if the Razorbacks had only rallied for that win.

Most dominant win

This is a close one, between the 44-30 defeat of South Carolina in Week 2 and the 52-35 road win at BYU on Oct. 15.

Arkansas scored touchdowns on its first three possessions against the Gamecocks and led 35-16 early in the fourth quarter. The Razorbacks recovered 1 of 2 onside kicks in the late going and outgained their visitors 457-417 in total offense.

BYU held a touchdown lead on three occasions in the first half, but Arkansas scored 24 second-quarter points to take control. The Razorbacks, who outgained the Cougars 644-471 in total offense, scored on eight consecutive possessions and it would’ve been nine if they could have punched in from the 1 late in the game. The beatdown of BYU was Arkansas’ most dominant win.

Least competitive loss

When you lose four games by three points or less, the pickings are slim in this category. The Razorbacks lost by 23 points to two teams but the defeat at Mississippi State was clearly more gnarly.

No. 2 Alabama pulled away late after a horrendous non-call on a 77-yard scramble to win 49-26.

Arkansas simply was not in contention during its 40-17 loss at No. 23 Mississippi State the following week without KJ Jefferson, who had suffered a concussion late against the Crimson Tide.

The Bulldogs passed for 406 yards, enjoyed a 568-483 edge in total offense and repelled two Razorback drives inside their 10-yard line with no points allowed.

Best pass

How about one for each quarterback? KJ Jefferson’s 19-yard touchdown strike in traffic to Jadon Haselwood in the opener against Cincinnati was a thing of beauty.

Malik Hornsby delivered a long-distance gem to Bryce Stephens, who made a strong leaping catch for a 54-yard score at Mississippi State. Cade Fortin hung in against an oncoming blitzed and delivered a perfect 40-yard touchdown pass to Matt Landers to pull the Hogs within 13-10 against LSU early in the fourth quarter.

Best catch

Two great ones came on the same series against Ole Miss. Ketron Jackson, running right to left on a crossing route, stopped and hauled in 12-yard throw from KJ Jefferson, just as defensive back Isheem Young knocked his upper torso back the other way after a great all-hands catch.

Two plays later, Matt Landers brought in a basket catch for a 23-yard touchdown, looking over his right shoulder, a la Willie Mays’ famous 1954 World Series catch, with Rebels’ cornerback Miles Battle almost glued to him.

Best run

So many to pick from, including KJ Jefferson’s great escapes against BYU, Kansas and others, and his 13-yard tackle-breaking scramble up the middle for a touchdown and a 14-3 lead at Auburn, but we’ll go with one of Raheim Sanders’ breakaways here.

On the second snap of the second half, Sanders took a run-pass option handoff at right guard, eluded linebacker Khari Coleman in the hole while getting seal blocks from Beaux Limmer and Dalton Wagner. Cornerback Deantre Prince caught up with him at about the Ole Miss 30, but Sanders veered right and won the sprint for a 68-yard touchdown and a 42-6 Arkansas lead.

Best run after catch

Raheim Sanders caught KJ Jefferson’s shovel pass at the 23-yard line just a couple of steps in front of the quarterback and he knew just what to do with the Hogs trailing Missouri State 27-17 early in the fourth quarter. Sanders blasted off, with good blocks all around him, including Ricky Stromberg’s down field. Safety Kyriq McDonald took a bad angle and paid the price, grabbing just the back of Sanders’ undershirt as he raced past at the 50. Sanders took the pass 73 yards for a touchdown to fuel a late rally in a 38-27 win.

Best hits

There were a few. Freshman linebacker Chris Paul got a crushing shot in on Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart on a keeper over the right side early in the Hogs’ 42-27 win.

The biggest blow of the year however, came in Memphis. Freshman cornerback Quincey McAdoo got in a vicious legal hit on Kansas’ Quentin Skinner, dropping his shoulder into the wideout’s mid-section to rock his world. Skinner held on for a 4-yard catch in the second quarter, but he was hurting and had to come out of the game.

Best sack

The Razorbacks notched a school-record 42 of them, so there are tons to pick from. Drew Sanders had one of his 9.5 sacks and put Missouri State’s upset hopes away with a 6-yarder on third and 15 late in the game.

Jordan Domineck turned his first sack as a Razorback into a game-changer when he stripped Cincinnati’s Ben Bryant at midfield and recovered himself in the fourth quarter to preserve the Hogs’ 24-17 lead in what became a 31-24 victory.

Best play design

Certainly there were plenty of them that produced big plays and touchdowns, but here’s two that stand out.

Rashod Dubinion’s wheel route around down the left sideline late in the first half produced a 15-yard touchdown catch and a 31-21 Arkansas lead with 40 seconds before halftime at BYU.

Offensive coordinator Kendal Briles took a San Francisco 49ers play and adapted it for the Liberty Bowl. KJ Jefferson faked left to Bryce Stephens, who had motioned into the backfield, faked right to the tailback Dubinion, then hit freshman tight end Ty Washington for a 17-yard touchdown on his only catch of the season for a 17-7 lead over the Jayhawks.

Worst gadget play

The Razorbacks have not had the best success with gimmick plays in recent years and this was a prime example. Tight end Trey Knox went in motion on second and goal from the Missouri 2-yard line with Arkansas trailing 29-24 early in the fourth quarter and he wound up under center.

Ricky Stromberg snapped it, Knox bobbled it, and when he secured possession there was no gap to exploit, nowhere to run. Knox was stopped for no gain and one incompletion later, Cam Little came on for a 20-yard field goal as Arkansas couldn’t take advantage of first and goal from the 2.

Best sack evasion

That there are more than a couple to evaluate speaks highly of KJ Jefferson’s escapability. Jefferson evaded what looked like a sure sack from at least three BYU defenders on a third-and-11 play to find Trey Knox for a 36-yard gain, setting up Rashod Dubinion’s 15-yard touchdown catch.

Jefferson also powered away from Lonnie Phelps’ grasp to break away for a 32-yard scramble on Arkansas’ final possession of the first half in the Liberty Bowl. That great play did not lead to a score, as the Jayhawks intercepted Jefferson in the end zone, so the choice is the first option, when Jefferson scrambled like a champ against the Cougars.

Best pick

Two stand out above the others.

Transfer cornerback Dwight McGlothern made undercut an out route on Cincinnati’s opening possession, made the interception and returned it 51 yards to the 29 to set up a Jefferson touchdown run. That play was a major factor in the Hogs’ win over the 23rd-ranked Bearcats.

Freshman Quincey McAdoo in his first action at cornerback, dogged a crossing route by Liberty’s Noah Frith, then snatched the ball away from the receiver as the pair tumbled to the grass.

Best strip

Cornerback Dwight McGlothern had several takeaways during the year, including a rip-away recovered by teammate Hudson Clark to seal a 52-35 win at BYU early in the fourth quarter.

But he outdid himself early in the second half against Ole Miss. Quinshon Judkins had broken free for a 16-yard run but instead of gaining momentum from the play, the Rebels turned it over as McGlothern helped stand him up, then pried the ball away and recovered at the Ole Miss 46.

Best special teams play

Bryce Stephens notched the only Arkansas special teams score of the year in Week 3 and it was a game-changer. With Arkansas trailing Missouri State 27-24 in the fourth quarter, the redshirt freshman retreated to his own 18 to catch a booming 57-yard punt. Stephens started left, picked up some blocks, including a key one from Hudson Clark, raced to his right, hit the sideline and out-ran all defenders for an 82-yard punt return score to give Arkansas the lead.

Also a contender was a crafty onside kick, executed and recovered by kickoff man Jake Bates after the Hogs pulled within 28-14 against Alabama. Linebackers Chris Paul and Jordan Crook combined to wipe out two Alabama players near the recovery point, just after the ball had gone 10 yards, leaving Bates all alone to cradle the kick. Cam Little booted a 22-yard field goal minutes later to make the gamble pay off.

Worst special teams play

There were a few, but the standout was Little’s missed 40-yard field goal against Texas A&M, which might have produced a dramatic 24-23 win, and the whiff on an onside kick recovery in the closing moments of regulation against Kansas in the Liberty Bowl.

The Hogs failed to have a man make an attempt to recover Kansas’ on-side kick in the waning moments of regulation, leading to a Jayhawk touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game at 38-38.


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