In RNN’s high school football coverage this year, we have made the point that sometimes a good football team has to find a way to win games when they are not playing their best on any particular day. For upsets to occur, there usually has to be the combination of an underdog team playing their best game versus a heavily-favored team that is not playing well and / or commits multiple turnovers to keep the underdog in the game. I am not necessarily saying this is what might have happened to Arkansas last night, but, make no mistake, former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino had this game circled on his calendar for several months, and the Missouri State Bears were prepared for their trip to DWR Razorbacks Stadium.
The Bears outplayed Arkansas for three quarters, but in the end, talent and the will to win finally had its say in the Hogs victory. Arkansas was fortunate to win, and the final margin of victory does not accurately depict how the game went for much of the evening. Arkansas did leave a touchdown off the board when it appeared to be going into the end zone in the first half, the Hogs’ Rocket Sanders uncharacteristically fumbled at the one yard line and turned the ball over to Missouri State. It was that kind of night, and the Hogs were fortunate to come out on top of this one.
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said after the game, ““Well, I want to congratulate Missouri State and Coach Petrino on a great game plan. He had his kids prepared more than I did. He did a wonderful job; they have a wonderful quarterback. Man did he make a lot of plays. We turned the ball over twice, but then Bryce Stephens returned a punt for the first time this year. We’re just so fortunate to win these game like this, you know if you are not playing well or the other team is playing well, or whatever the situation is, you’re just trying to fight and claw and get out with a win. There were several different times in the game where it didn’t look like we were going to win. Our kids just kept fighting and clawing and to come out with an 11-point win, that says a lot about the culture of our program and of our kids. I’m really proud that we won the game and I’ll leave it at that.”
Social media was buzzing during and after the game; some saying that two or three years ago, Arkansas would not have found a way to win last night’s game. Who knows if that is true, but, Arkansas did find a way to win just one week removed from a week in college football when several upsets around the country occurred, such as Appalachian State going into a packed Kyle Field and upsetting the heavily-favored Aggies. Sometimes, you just have to find a way to win, and, a little luck along the way helps.
Here are some highlights and statistics from the game as provided by the University of Arkansas:
» WR Ketron Jackson Jr. snared a career-long 64 yard reception in the first quarter.
» WR Matt Landers notched his third career game with 100+ receiving yards after totaling seven receptions for 123 yards.
» RB Raheim Sanders finished with a career high 167 rushing yards and a career high 75 receiving yards, inlcuiding a career-long 73-yard TD reception.
» Sanders is one of seven SEC players since 2000 to record 100+ rushing yards, 1+ rushing touchdown, 70+ receiving yards and 1+ receiving touchdowns in a single game.
» Sanders is the first Arkansas player since TJ Hammonds in 2017 against Coastal Carolina with 100+ rushing yard, 1+ rushing TD, 50+ receiving yards, 1+ receiving TD.
» Sanders has eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark for the third straight game. He’s the first Arkansas running back to rush for 100+ yards in the first three games of a season since Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins each did so in 2013.
» QB K.J. Jefferson threw for a career-high 385 yards. His 19 completions and 31 attempts were season highs.
» In the first half, Jefferson completed 9-of-15 passes (60%) for 237 yards and a touchdown. His 237 passing yards at the half are the most he has thrown for in the first half of a game.
» Jefferson completed a season-long 73 yard pass to Raheim Sanders in the fourth quarter. It was Sanders’ second career receiving TD.
» Dating back to last season, Jefferson has rushed for a TD in four consecutive games. He is the first Arkansas QB to run for a TD in four games in a row since Quinn Grovey in 1988. He has thrown a TD and rished for a TD in all three games in 2022.
» Under head coach Sam Pittman, Arkansas has gained 400+ total yards of offense in 19 of 27 games, including six straight dating back to last season.
» Head Coach Sam Pittman is the first Arkansas head coach since Lou Holtz (1977-78) to win his first seven games against non-conference opponents.
» Saturday’s attendance of 74,133 is the highest-attended game against an FCS foe in school history.
» LB Drew Sanders posted his second consecutive game with double digit tackles and at least 1.5 sacks after finishing with 12, inlcuding a career-high 2.5 sacks.
» DL Jordan Domineck tied his career high in sacks with 2.0. Domineck now has 13 career sasks (the most by a current Hog).
» Bryce Stephens became the first Arkansas player to return a punt for a touchdown since Nathan Parodi did vs. UAPB in 2021.
» S Saimeon Blair tallied a career-high 10 tackles, including nine solo stops.
» Arkansas finished with eight sacks. Since 1999, the eight sacks in a game ties the most by the Razorbacks (8 vs Auburn in 2012 and 8 vs Texas in 1999. In addition to Drew Sanders’ and Domineck, Zach Williams added two sacks – a career-high for Williams.
At Bobby Petrino’s post-game press conference, the former Arkansas coach made the following statement:
“I’m really proud of our team and our assistant coaches. Did a really nice job of preparing, we had good practices, we came in and competed extremely hard, we had a good plan, and we were
able to jump up and get a lead. We knew it was going to be hard to hold on to it, but we got really good players and really good coaches, so we knew we were going to make a run back. I was
encouraged when we answered it and got another touchdown, but eventually they wore us down, made a lot of plays, and we let them beat us.”
On his team’s fearless mentality:
“Really proud of them. I think that we have really good leadership, we wanted to be tough, to try to match their speed and their physicalness, and I think for most of the night we did a pretty
good job of that. But nobody blinked, our guys played extremely hard. We just got to try to build on that. We’ve got a really tough game next week too, so it just keeps getting better.”
On what the game means for his program:
“I mean it’s been fun. It’s been really fun to watch the players’ beliefs change, how much more they believe in themselves now and how their expectations have changed. How they expect to
go through practice, how they expect their teammate to practice hard, so that’s been the greatest part of it, I guess, to watch their expectations change, to watch them grow and watch them
come together as a family. We’re all from everywhere, our team is from all across the country. If you look at our roster, where are we recruiting at? Where’s our recruiting base? America, that’s our recruiting base. Because we’re from everywhere, and to be able to come together, says a lot about our assistant coaches and says a lot about the leaders on our team.”
Jason Shelley, Missouri State’s quarterback who continually hurt the Arkansas defense with both his passing and his running said after game, “I think we proved that we’re a team that’s hard nose and got a lot of effort and a lot of guys with talent and I think that kind of showcased today. We had a couple missed assignments here and there, but I think that cost us in the end. Overall, I think the guys came out and played hard. “It was pretty loud (the Arkansas crowd), but it’s always going to be loud when you’re the away team. We just have to handle the crowd and outside distractions, we’ll be alright. It’s kind of a learning experience. I don’t think we’re ever going to play in front of 80,000 again, but I think we’ll be alright.”
The Razorbacks are now 3-0 overall and 1-0 in the SEC and will turn their attention to returning to conference play next week when they travel to Arlington, Texas to play Texas A&M ar ATT & T Stadium. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally by ESPN. According to ESPN, Texas A&M has a 57.8% chance to win the game. The Aggies defeated Miami last night at home to overcome the previous week’s upset loss to App State. Arkansas defeated Texas A&M a year ago, and this year’s game is huge for both schools in the SEC standings. Arkansas will return home to host Alabama on October 1.
Stay with RNN Sports this week when we bring you the Texas A&M game preview. But until then…GO HOGS!
Note to Our Readers: Portions of this story were sourced directly from the University of Arkansas Office of Communications, Mike Cawood, Associate Communications Director.