Week one is in the books, and the Hogs are 1-0 after a rock fight against #23 Cincinnati.
Arkansas fans should feel somewhat thankful that this game was at home and in week one instead of on the road and later in the season.
A team’s worst football is usually played in the first week of the season.
Cincinnati’s mistakes outnumbered Arkansas’ and coupled with a raucous environment in Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium was the major difference in the game.
Overthrowing open receivers, missed blocking assignments and six pre-snap penalties are mistakes that you would expect a team like Cincinnati to have corrected later in the season.
Now, that doesn’t mean Arkansas didn’t make their fair share of mistakes. However, Arkansas was able to overcome their mistakes each time. Cincinnati could not.
Neither team played particularly great, but it was a highly entertaining game and, most importantly, the Hogs won.
What We Learned
• KJ Jefferson Didn’t Miss a Beat
Watching KJ Jefferson lead Arkansas at quarterback is such a treat.
Once again, he was the best player on the field yesterday and looked the most comfortable. We had heard throughout the offseason that he had lost some weight and improved his speed, and that was obvious yesterday.
On his lone touchdown run, Jefferson got to the second level and outran a pair of Bearcat defensive backs. His physicality and size are still there too. That makes him even more of a threat than before and should keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night even longer.
Jefferson also picked up where he left off last season through the air, making great decisions in the pocket and taking care of the football. He finished with 223 yards passing and three touchdowns to go with 62 yards rushing and one touchdown. His performance should keep him in the conversation as a Hesiman sleeper this season.
• Trey Knox Takes Reins as TE1
One of the big question marks coming into the season was at the tight end position. Trey Knox moved from receiver to tight end before last season but didn’t have the size to be a consistent option. This offseason, Knox bulked up from 215 to 245 and looks the part of an SEC tight end now.
His Arkansas career has been underwhelming so far, but he’s a fan favorite because he’s stayed with the program through the ups and downs. Yesterday, Knox’s sacrifices paid off as he had the first multiple touchdown game of his career. He finished as the leading receiver with 6 catches for 75 yards and received praise from his head coach.
“He worked hard at tight end, and he believes he’s a tight end,” said Sam Pittman. “He is. He’s a good one.”
It was great seeing Knox have that success yesterday, and it looks like he could be a big part of the offense going forward. The tight end position looks to be his to lose for now, and if the performances like this one continue, it’s in good hands.
• Transfers Come Up Big
The hype for Arkansas’ transfer additions in the offseason was well-documented, and almost all of them made major contributions. Jadon Haselwood (WR from Oklahoma) and Matt Landers (WR from Toledo) each had three catches. Haselwood was able to haul in a phenomenal touchdown catch in the second half.
The transfers on the defensive side of the ball really shined. Dwight McGlothern (CB from LSU) had a huge interception on the first drive of the game.
Drew Sanders (LB from Alabama), Landon Jackson (DE from LSU) and Jordan Domineck (DT from Georgia Tech) all had big sacks on Saturday. Domineck was able to force and recover a fumble on his sack.
Terry Hampton (DT from Arkansas State) and Latavious Brini (S from Georgia) also made their presence felt, finishing with three and five tackles respectively.
The transfer portal is now as vital as traditional recruiting, and this is a great example why. Being able to replace key areas on the roster with veterans and guys that already have valuable experience in the SEC is a big advantage.
As Arkansas gets into SEC play, having experienced guys in the two-deep is going to be crucial as their depth will begin to get tested.
• Secondary Struggles in Second Half
The Arkansas defense was great in the first half of Saturday’s game. All three levels seemed to be on the same page as they pitched a shut-out going into halftime.
The second half was a little bit of a different story.
Ben Bryant and the Bearcat passing attack was able to carve up the Arkansas secondary. After only allowing 92 passing yards in the first half, the secondary allowed 233 passing yards in the second half.
Some of this can be attributed to the key injuries of safeties Jalen Catalon (shoulder) and Myles Slusher (concussion). Both left the game and did not return for the final two quarters. Their absence coincided with Cincinnati having more success through the air.
A lot of the mistakes we saw being made can be corrected, especially if Catalon and Slusher are able to come back soon.
Also, it’s only week one.
It’s hard to put a lot of stock into any struggles that we saw Saturday, but the secondary probably had the worst game of any position group. It’s worth monitoring in the coming week.