Bob Holt is a sports reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he sits on the board of directors for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
Arkansas D suffocates upset hopes
Arkansas defenders Keivie Rose (right) and Chris Paul sack Kent State quarterback Michael Alaimo during a game Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Kent State was 32 yards and eight points away from having a chance to tie its game against the University of Arkansas early in the third quarter.
Momentum had swung Kent State’s way after the Razorbacks’ first possession of the second half ended when Dominique Johnson was tackled for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-1 from the Arkansas 34.
But the Golden Flashes couldn’t even attempt a field goal after Arkansas’ defense quickly turned the momentum back to the Razorbacks.
The defense pushed Kent State back 16 yards the next three plays and Arkansas pulled away to win 28-6 on Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium rather than seeing the Golden Flashes cut into what was then their 14-6 deficit.
“They bailed me out, didn’t they?” Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said of the defensive players. “I love them.”
On first down from the 32, Razorbacks defensive tackle Eric Gregory and linebacker Jaheim Thomas dropped running back Gavin Garcia for a 1-yard loss.
After Mike Alaimo threw an incompletion, he was pressured by defensive end Landon Jackson.
Alaimo threw a wobbly pass out of bounds that was about 20 yards short of the nearest receiver.
Kent State was called for intentional grounding, a 15-yard penalty with a loss of down. Jackson also was credited with a sack.
“Mike made a play, and he thought he was out of the pocket,” Kent State Coach Kenni Burns said. “He wasn’t.
“You know, to me that’s a bang-bang play, and he had a receiver in the area, he thought. So he’s going to learn from it.
“But the biggest thing there is we’ve got to do a better job protecting him. He shouldn’t be under that much duress in that situation.”
Facing fourth-and-26 from the Arkansas 48, Burns opted to punt.
The Razorbacks had the momentum back thanks to their defense.
“Somebody had to step up and make a play,” said Thomas, a junior transfer from Cincinnati who led Arkansas with 12 tackles and had two sacks. “And when the opportunity came, we capitalized on it.”
Pittman said he was relieved when the Golden Flashes didn’t capitalize on their golden opportunity to possibly tie the game.
“I was the happiest guy in the place, I can tell you that,” Pittman said.
Arkansas then put together a 12-play, 91-yard touchdown drive to push its lead to a more comfortable 21-6.
“We work with the defense every day, and they just get better and better,” said Arkansas senior receiver Andrew Armstrong, who caught two touchdown passes. “It’s not even them bailing us out, we just have faith in them.
“If we didn’t get the fourth down, we knew that we were going to be back on the field eventually. We know our defense is going to be great this year, and they’ve been great today. They’ve been doing everything they need to do.”
The Razorbacks held Kent State to 200 yards pf total offense and had 11 tackles for losses totaling 59 yards, including 7 sacks.
Thomas and senior defensive end Trajan Jeffcoat, a transfer from Missouri, each were credited with 1.5 sacks.
“Our whole motto was to dominate,” 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 shut out the Golden Flashes in the second half thanks to a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter on what turned out to be Kent State’s final possession.
After Kent State drove from its 25 and had a first-and-goal at the Arkansas 2, defensive tackle Taurean Carter and safety Hudson Clark stopped Jaylen Thomas for a 1-yard gain.
Linebacker Chris Paul stopped Thomas for no gain, then linebacker Antonio Grier and defensive tackle Cam Ball stopped Alaimo for no gain.
On fourth down from the 3, Jackson burst through the line and dropped Garcia for a 4-yard loss.
“We were just excited, man,” Thomas said. “We had to make a play. … We didn’t want them in the end zone. We didn’t want them to score.
“So just being down there, being able to play our physical brand of football.”
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