FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas got rested up during the bye week and the result was beating the third ranked team on its schedule with this one a 31-28 thriller over No. 17 Mississippi State.
Arkansas finished the game with 393 yards of total offense including 202 on the ground. KJ Jefferson was 19 of 23 for 191 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 14 yards. Redshirt freshman Dominique Johnson rushed 17 times for 107 yards and two touchdowns while catching one pass for seven yards. Treylon Burks caught six passes for 82 yards and one touchdown and rushed three times for 39 yards. He also tried a pass play on the opening play from scrimmage and over threw a wide open De’Vion Warren. Sam Pittman said after the game he was confident that play was going to work.
“I thought we were going to score on the first play of the game,” Pittman said. “I almost guaranteed we were going to score on the first play of the game. We were going to fair catch the kickoff. We were going to put it on the left hash, and we were going to go up 7-0. It didn’t happen. He got behind him, but we just didn’t throw and catch. We knew we had to have creative ways to run the football against Mississippi State because we had high respect and high regard for their defensive front.”
While Burks missed on the pass play that was the only thing he did wrong all day.
“Oh man,” Burks said laughing. “We repped that all week long and it was money throughout practice and everything. I take responsibility. I didn’t get my feet set. I just didn’t make a good pass, but it’ll get better.”
It was Jefferson who trotted out on the field with 2:22 remaining in the game and the Hogs trailing 28-23 and took the Hogs down the field. They scored on a 4-yard run by Johnson with 21 seconds remaining in the game. Johnson also scored on a two-point conversion to set the final score. Pittman was impressed with Jefferson’s composure on that drive.
“I love him,” Pittman said. “I mean, he was so poised in that 2-minute drive. I think once you do it once, you become more confident. I’m not saying I knew we were going to go down and score, because that’s a lie, but I felt confident that if we got the first first down in that drive, and we did fast, I felt like we could score. And then, my biggest concern at that time is when to call a timeout and when not to, because we went though the same thing against Missouri last year and I was trying to leave — be smart, but leave as few seconds (as possible). The kids, KJ, he just really has gotten better. He’s poised, he’s a heck of a quarterback, so I’m glad you brought him up. Going 19 for 23, no interceptions, he played a heck of a football game.”
Jefferson had operated a similar drive at Ole Miss that gave the Hogs a chance to win that game.
“I just stay cool, calm and collected,” Jefferson said. “That’s the main thing that goes through my head. Just stay calm, cool and collected knowing I’m the quarterback and everybody is going to feed off my energy. My body language plays a part in it as well. I just told the guys it’s go time I’m just instilling confidence knowing I’ve just got to let them know I’ve got their back and they’ve got my back. That’s just the main thing be cool, calm and collected.”
Arkansas’ final drive was kept alive when a fourth-and-one pass intended for Burks fell incomplete, but the Mississippi State defensive back had tackled Burks and was correctly called for holding. The Hogs scored three plays later.
“Really I just give thanks to my teammates for just coming out and playing their asses off, defense and offense,” Burks said. “We just went out there and we played for each other and the outcome was the outcome. On the holding call it was just like, I knew I had him. He was beat. But his way to get me was to grab me, so I just went with the grab and fell to the ground and it worked.”
Pittman was proud of the outcome there but had hoped for a running play on fourth down.
“On the fourth and inches?,” Pittman said. “I kept saying to (Kendal) Briles on the headset ‘Get the first down. Get the first down.’ Obviously, he had shut me off at that time because he was rolling out. I said get the first down. We’ve got two timeouts. Get the first down. Get the first down. Which he knows that I mean run the football. But yeah, it changed big time. I saw the flag. I didn’t know if it was on them or us, but I sure was hoping. Somebody up top said they got a holding call. I figured at that point we’d have a pretty good chance to score.”
Johnson had a big game earning his start with his performances in the earlier games.
“I think he’s awesome,” Pittman said. “He’s done that all year, we just haven’t been giving him the carries. He’s done what he did tonight every time he’s out there. He had 17 carries for 107 yards and a couple of touchdowns. He’s good everywhere, but he’s better as you wear them down and you saw at the end — the line, he didn’t have to break any tackles on that 4-yard run at the end, and I think he just walked in on the 2-point conversion. The line got better as the game went on, as well. I thought they played another really fine game. But it’s good to see Dominique do what he did, especially with more opportunities. Obviously we started him tonight.”
Johnson set many personal highs in the game since he had only limited carries in previous games.
“We pretty much had a running mentality coming into this game, being that they were fourth in rushing defense I believe,” Johnson said. “So we pretty much had an emphasis on running the ball this week. Coach Pittman met with me this week and we talked about running the ball. He told me I needed to be prepared to run the ball and I think I came in and did a good job as well as the other running backs, coming in and running the ball this game.”
Johnson was quick to credit Cody Kennedy’s offensive line for the final touchdown and two-point conversion. He ran up the middle virtually untouched on both.
“The line did a tremendous job,” Johnson said. “Those five guys up front blocked their tails off. Nobody touched me. The hole was as big as I don’t know what. So I appreciate those guys up front for making that hole and they did their job.
“The two-point conversion was pretty much the same way. They did their job, fired off the ball, made a big gap for me and I went in and scored a touchdown.”
True freshman kicker Cam Little made three field goals and only missed one. He was successful from 48-, 46- and 51-yard field goals.
“Yeah, I got booed on the 51-yard field goal that he made,” Pittman said. “We went up by two. I mean, I am at practice and I see him kick and I felt like he could make a 51-yarder. I wanted to take the lead. He really was valuable. He missed the one, but he kicked some long field goals tonight and did a really good job with that.”
Arkansas is now 6-3 on the season and will be at LSU on Saturday night for another SEC contest.