Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for the Hawgs Sports Network. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas and previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was the 2022 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Takeaways from the Razorbacks' win over Kent State
Arkansas wide receiver Isaac TeSlaa (4) reacts after catching a pass for a first down, Saturday, Sept, 9, 2023, during the second quarter of the Razorbacks’ game against Kent State at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for the photo gallery.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas receiver Isaac TeSlaa did not lead the Razorbacks in receptions Saturday against Kent State.
Andrew Armstrong, another of Arkansas’ new playmakers on the perimeter, had a game-high 4 catches for 21 yards and 2 touchdowns. TeSlaa, though, made two of the more timely grabs of the day during the team’s 28-6 victory over the Golden Flashes.
With the Razorbacks ahead 7-6 in the second quarter and searching for a spark, he delivered with a diving, contested 36-yard catch from KJ Jefferson to the Kent State 9. Four plays later, Jefferson found Armstrong for a 5-yard score.
Later, in the third quarter, another contested catch from TeSlaa in the red zone helped set up a touchdown. Jefferson hit TeSlaa for a 12-yard gain to the Kent State 5, and running back Rashod Dubinion found the end zone two snaps later.
There was plenty of chatter in the preseason about TeSlaa’s sure hands. Through two games, the narrative hasn’t changed a bit.
“We felt like it was a pass interference [on the second catch] because he basically tackled him. Just putting the ball anywhere near [him], he’ll go make a play on it,” Jefferson said. “Just having a guy like that that you can put it around, he has an extreme catch radius.
“Just putting the ball around him, [I know] he’ll make a play.”
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said he told offensive coordinator Dan Enos to try to hurry the offense to the line of scrimmage after both of TeSlaa’s catches. He did not want officials to have a chance to review the plays.
“He catches everything,” Pittman saud. “The guy can catch. We didn’t particularly throw it well today, so we’ve got to figure out all that kind of stuff, but he made some TeSlaa catches like he always does.”
TeSlaa has 6 catches for 117 yards and 1 touchdown this season.
Razorbacks needed Jefferson in the run game
Jefferson was lightly used on the ground during Arkansas’ season-opening win over Western Carolina.
The Razorbacks needed his run-game savvy Saturday. Jefferson rushed 13 times — including 9 after halftime as Arkansas attempted to find an offensive groove — for 48 yards.
He moved the chains on third down three times and also converted on fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter. His longest run, an 18-yarder, came on third-and-2 in the third quarter.
Pittman said the Razorbacks had Jefferson figured into the game plan running the ball, but primarily for short-yardage situations.
“We were ready for that, just, obviously, we didn't want to have to go to that, if that makes sense,” Pittman added.
Jefferson, however, was all for running the ball more. His first carry of the game, an 8-yard pickup, resulted in a first down and an injured defender.
“It actually felt good, because I haven’t been hit in so long,” Jefferson said. “Once I got the first hit, I was like, ‘OK, I’m back now. I feel good. I’m ready now.’
“It felt good just being able to help my teammates get out there and secure the victory.”
Outside of Jefferson and running back AJ Green, the Razorbacks rushed 17 times for 42 yards. Green quietly had a nice day, finishing with 82 yards on 15 touches.
Defense solid again
Arkansas’ defense has not faced offensive juggernauts in the opening weeks of the season — far from it.
But the unit has played about as well as could be expected. It is always a plus when a defense in a pair of games scores more touchdowns (2) than it allows (1).
Antonio Grier, the transfer linebacker from South Florida, picked off a pass during his first series and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown. It was the second pick-6 by an Arkansas linebacker in as many weeks, and it was Grier’s first interception since Oct. 23, 2021.
The Razorbacks allowed Kent State to pick up 75 yards in the first quarter, but the Golden Flashes finished the day with just 200. They averaged 3.8 yards per play and 0.7 yards per rush.
Arkansas’ defense stepped up in a big way after a failed fourth-down attempt by the Razorbacks on the opening series of the second half. Kent State took possession at Arkansas’ 32, but had to punt 49 seconds later.
In the fourth quarter, the Razorbacks made a goal-line stand that thrilled Pittman.
“Our whole motto was to dominate,” defensive end Trajan Jeffcoat said. “Dominate the line of scrimmage, dominate as a whole unit, so we all had that on our minds. We knew what we had to do, so we did it.”
The Razorbacks finished with 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Seven players tallied at least one-half sack, and Jeffcoat and linebacker Jaheim Thomas led the way with 2 stops behind the line of scrimmage and 1.5 sacks.
“They came out, they executed their game plan,” Jefferson said of the defense. “They played as a unit, as a team, on defense. They fly around the ball, a lot of TFLs, a lot of guys around the ball carrier. They came out, executed their game plan.
“We were extremely proud of our defense.”
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