FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ third-year sophomore starting quarterback and senior, best cornerback play against the Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday in Oxford, Mississippi, minus participating in last year’s Arkansas victory over Ole Miss in Fayetteville.
Coach Sam Pittman’s 13th-ranked Razorbacks, 4-1 overall, 1-1 in the SEC West, and coach Lane Kiffin’s 17th-ranked Rebels, 3-1, 0-1 in the SEC West, clash at 11 a.m. Saturday on ESPN at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Quarterback KJ Jefferson, last year backing up now in the NFL 2020 Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks, not only comes to play Ole Miss but comes home doing so. Jefferson hails from Sardis, Mississippi.
Jefferson said he was excited to leave Mississippi coming to Arkansas and of course “very excited,” to come back there as Arkansas’ starting quarterback.
“I’ve got a lot of family members coming to the game to watch me play,” Jefferson said after Arkansas practiced Tuesday. “They’ve never been to a game. So I’m pretty pumped that they’ll be able to make it and come see me play.”
Had Ole Miss, then under former Ole Miss coach Matt Luke while Arkansas then was under Chad Morris, recruited him?
“Yes, Ole Miss did recruit me,” Jefferson said. “I didn’t really think that much of Ole Miss just because I wanted to get out of the State of Mississippi. Arkansas just took it away.”
He didn’t think much of attending Ole Miss back in 2019 but he seems to think highly of Ole Miss’ defense, particularly with the Hogs smarting from last Saturday’s shutout administered, 37-0 by the nationally No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs in Athens, Georgia.
“Ole Miss defense, they are pretty solid this year,” Jefferson said. “They went and got some guys out of the portal. They do really good stuff on defense, a lot of stuff like our defense.”
Aside from the Georgia Bulldogs five-star both sides of the ball talent, the Razorbacks were obviously rattled, particularly with false start penalties on the offensive line, by the 93,000 full-throated capacity crowd at Sanford Stadium.
Vaught-Hemingway doesn’t hold as many. And with Oxford’s proximity to Arkansas there ought to be a respectable Razorbacks representation fans. Still, the stadium holds 64,000, the majority decidedly hostile to the Hogs.
“Georgia being truly the first road game, it kind of caught me off guard a little bit,” Jefferson said off Arkansas’ Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium neutral site win over Texas A&M. “The main thing is just getting into the offensive line’s head early, settling them down. We know it’s going to be loud, we know it’s going to be a hostile environment. Just get settled in as quickly as possible and make sure they make their calls and do all the little details right.”
Senior Mnotaric Brown of Ashdown, was sidelined by a concussion when his replacement, Hudson Clark, picked off three of the six interceptions that Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral threw in his nightmare game last year in Fayetteville.
Frustrating not to be a part of that?
“Nah,” Brown said Tuesday evening. “I was very excited man, just seeing Hudson Clark just step up and get those three picks last year. It was exciting to watch.”
But it is exciting for him getting a go at Corral, so far beyond his nadir in Fayetteville that he was 2021 preseason regarded the SEC’s top returning quarterback. So far he’s established himself a Heisman Trophy candidate. Corral has completed 87 of 125 for 1,210 yards and 10 touchdowns versus zero interceptions and rushed six touchdowns.
“He’s a good quarterback,” Brown said. “He gets the ball to his receivers and he does what he has to do.”
Arkansas senior linebacker Bumper Pool said Corral will be better prepared for Arkansas’ Barry Odom coordinated defensive scheme since Ole Miss now plays a similar defensive scheme.
“Obviously, he’s been preparing a lot for our drop-eight,” Pool said. “We’re going to switch things up, try to apply some pressure to him. Our D-Line has been playing really well. Hopefully, we keep him disrupted and make him get out of the pocket and make some errant throws.”
All four players, Razorbacks receiver Treylon Burks was interviewed, too, vow they won’t let a Georgia hangover beat Arkansas twice.
“Georgia is in the past,” Burks said. “We’re not worried about Georgia at all. They were a good team. They showed it, but we’re not worried about that. We’re preparing for Ole Miss.”
In Oxford, Kiffin’s regrouping Rebels offer similar sentiments coming off a 42-21 loss in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to the nationally No. 1 reigning national champion Alabama Crimson Tide.
“We both have a lot to play for,” Pool said. “I think we’re both excited for the challenge.”
Jalen St. John, the 6-foot-5, 330-pound redshirt freshman and 6-5, 350 sophomore via the University of Charlotte transfer Ty’Kieast Crawford operating as Arkansas second-team guards behind sophomore starters Brady Latham, 6-5, 305, and Beaux Limmer, 6-5, 300, during the early portion that media witnessed of Tuesday’s otherwise closed practice.