Razorback rewind: Arkansas has worst penalty game in more than a decade

Big 12 referee Kevin Boitmann watches a replay monitor during a game between Arkansas and BYU on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas’ penalty epidemic in Saturday’s 38-31 loss to BYU neared historic proportions.

The Razorbacks were flagged 14 times for 125 yards by the Big 12 officiating crew, and one holding penalty late in the game was declined by the Cougars.

The 125 penalty yards were the most for Arkansas since it had 13 penalties for 130 yards in a 49-14 win over Vanderbilt on Oct. 30, 2010. 

The total penalties were the most since the Hogs accrued 14 flags for 112 yards in a 42-38 comeback win over Texas A&M on Oct. 1, 2011.

“Obviously we didn’t play smart with 14 penalties. It killed us,” Coach Sam Pittman said on postgame radio.

BYU accepted four holding penalties on the Hogs, two by Brady Latham, and one each from Andrew Chamblee and Francis Sherman. The Cougars declined a holding call on Patrick Kutas on the fifth-to-last snap of the game.

“It was tough for our offense because once we were getting momentum and getting our tempo and playing fast like we usually do, then a penalty would stop our momentum and we’d have to slow everything down just to get set back up and move the ball back,” tailback AJ Green said.

“That just kills our momentum. … When we’re able to just run the ball and get down, run the next play, throw the ball out, get down, run the next play, it kills teams because they never have enough time to get set up and know what’s coming and be prepared for it.”

Pittman said on radio the Razorbacks struggled with BYU’s defensive ends and had to make changes after tackles Patrick Kutas and Chamblee came out briefly late in the game.

“We couldn’t handle their defensive ends … and we got hurt there at the end and had to move some guys around a little bit and got a couple of holding penalties and a couple of false starts that crushed us a little bit as well,” he said. “You can’t win beating yourself and we did tonight.”

Three of the flags could be viewed as a little over-zealous: An offensive pass interference penalty on tight end Luke Hasz for contact downfield on a completed pass to him; an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the defense for celebrating Hudson Clark’s fumble recovery on a Dwight McGlothern forced fumble; a roughing the passer call on Antonio Grier after he contacted quarterback Kedon Slovis lightly and not late on a third quarter field goal drive.

Ironically, one of BYU’s seven penalties for 45 yards wound up being a game-changing play. Arkansas had stopped a fake field goal run by holder Ryan Rekhow and was prepared to take over at about its own 20 leading 31-21.

However, the Cougars had drawn a delay of game penalty just before the snap, setting up a fourth-and-12 from the Hogs’ 26. Given a second chance, BYU capitalized on Will Ferrin’s 43-yard field goal.

3-0 denied

Saturday’s loss prevented the Razorbacks from achieving a feat for the first time since 1977-79. 

A win over BYU would have given Arkansas a 3-0 record for the third consecutive season, a feat that has not been accomplished since teams coached by Lou Holtz did it in his first three seasons at the helm by winning four, four and six games, respectively. 

The 1980 Razorbacks lost their season opener at No. 10 Texas 23-17.

Bear front

Sam Pittman was clearly annoyed when asked a third time about the Razorbacks’ failed fourth-and-1 play at midfield in the third quarter with the Hogs ahead 31-21.

Quarterback KJ Jefferson took the snap in a Shotgun set with Rashod Dubinion in a “sidecar” spot next to him. The Cougars broke through the left side of the Arkansas line and safety Ethan Slade and linebackers AJ Vongphachanah and Max Tooley combined to stop Dubinion in the backfield for no gain.

The Razorbacks were also in Shotgun on a failed fourth-and-1 snap at their 34 in a 28-6 win over Kent State in Week 2.

ESPN commentator Rod Gilmore said on the broadcast, “I’ve got to ask ‘Why?’ Why are you doing that? Why not just put your quarterback under center and let him pick up the half yard?”

Gilmore said the lateral movement in the backfield was a bad decision.

When Pittman was asked about being in Shotgun for the failed play, he bristled and said that was the third question about the play and he had already answered the question.

However, he came back to the topic later when asked about another potential fourth-and-1 call that didn’t take place due to an offsides penalty.

“We were very, very concerned about running the sneak because they were jumping into Bear,” Pittman said. “They had the guards and the center. It’s easy to say that you’ve got a big quarterback and you can go get a first down, but they’re in Bear and plugging 'A' gaps, so they basically have five guys in there to your three.”

Outkicked

BYU punter Ryan Rekhow has a huge leg but that worked to his detriment on the Cougars’ first punt of the game after its first series. 

Rekhow’s booming 54-yard punt forced returner Isaiah Sategna to the left sideline, but the redshirt freshman had space to operate for a few yards, got some good blocks and raced 88 yards for his first college touchdown.

“He out-kicked his coverage,” Sategna said. “We knew all week that he was going to do that. My guys blocked it up perfectly. Mani Powell, he had a great block, and all I had to do was run.”

Powell and Sategna played together as classmates at Fayetteville High School.

Streak ends

KJ Jefferson’s streak of passing for at least two touchdowns ended against BYU as he threw just one, a 19-yarder to Luke Hasz in the second quarter.

The senior from Sardis, Miss., had thrown at least two touchdown passes in his last six games, dating to last season.

Jefferson accounted for one touchdown to push his career total to 74, three behind Arkansas record holder Matt Jones.

Hands team

Coach Sam Pittman said a couple of offensive linemen are dealing with hand injuries that cause them to be “casted up pretty good.”

Center Beaux Limmer is one of the two but he didn’t identify the other lineman. Several other Razorbacks wore wraps on both hands, including Josh Braun, Andrew Chamblee and Patrick Kutas.

Pittman was asked about the team captain Latham’s flurry of penalties and moving to tackle late in the game.

“I think he’ll be fine,” Pittman said. “We asked him to move out there. Devon Manuel just hasn’t been healthy — got a stinger and we keep thinking he’s going to get back, so we made the decision on Thursday.

“We played Brady on Tuesday and Wednesday at left tackle because I didn’t know if Dev would be able to play, but he’ll be fine.

“He’ll bounce back from it. He’s won a lot of games here and been a great player for us. He’ll bounce back. He wasn’t the reason we lost the game tonight. He’ll be fine.”

CB shuffle

The Razorbacks ran a lot of cornerbacks into the game, particularly early after regular nickel back Lorando “Snaxx” Johnson and freshman Jaylon Braxton started.

Dwight McGlothern, who had been battling a turf toe, and Jaheim Singletary, the cornerback starters the first two weeks, came in on the second series and defensive backs coaches Marcus Woodson and Deron Wilson rotated frequently after that.

“I just thought they practiced the best,” Sam Pittman said. “We didn’t practice well at corner on Tuesday. We made the decision that we needed to be a little bit better there. Braxton had earned that right. We thought we might be a little better with Snaxx at corner and [Hudson Clark] at safety and Hog.”

Top play

BYU made a few great individual plays but none topped Chase Roberts’ one-hand grab of the go-ahead touchdown pass with eight minutes left in the game.

Roberts, whose lost fumble late in the first half cost the Cougars three points, made up for it with what was deemed the No. 1 play on ESPN’s "SportsCenter" late Saturday night.

Roberts' 7-yard touchdown reception came near the left sideline in the end zone behind safety Jayden Johnson.

Earlier in the game, tight end Isaac Rex made a one-hand catch of a ball that seemed well over his head for a 26-yard gain to set up BYU’s first go-ahead touchdown for a 21-14 lead.