Breaking News
More () »

Jefferson, Wilson lead Arkansas to season-opening win over Western Carolina

Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson connected with wide receiver Jaedon Wilson for a 65-yard touchdown early in the first quarter... and it was all over after that.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Redshirt senior quarterback KJ Jefferson finished with four total touchdowns as Arkansas jumped out to an early lead against Western Carolina and held on for a 56-13 victory Saturday at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

Arkansas's 56 points is the most for the program in a single game since 2016.

The 56 points is the most Arkansas in a game since 2016.

"I want to start out by thanking the Arkansas fans for coming out today, I thought the crowd was outstanding and loud. I’m very thankful. I’m proud of the team," Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman said. "We got to play a whole lot of people, which we haven’t done since I’ve been here... We’ve gotten away from 'did I get to play or not' to 'how well did you play.'... I’ll take a 50, 60 or 70, any time a team wants to give it to us."

Leading up to the Razorbacks' season opener, Jefferson said the team wanted to "start fast" and crush the Catamounts' confidence early.

The Hogs did just that, holding Western Carolina to a three-and-out on the game's first drive and capitalizing two plays later on a 65-yard touchdown pass from Jefferson to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jaedon Wilson.

Jefferson completed 18 of 23 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns, while Wilson led all Hogs in receiving with 83 yards and one touchdown on three catches.

"I think we came out and we executed the game plan," Jefferson said. "In the past, in the early games, we haven't, as an offense, been starting fast and kind of lingering around. I think we came out this week and just had a big emphasis on starting fast, being urgent and making sure we know what we're doing."

Arkansas forced the Catamounts to punt on their next drive and piled onto its lead. Junior running back Raheim Sanders capped a seven-play, 47-yard drive with a three-yard rushing touchdown to put the Hogs up 14-0 with 8:40 left in the first quarter.

Sanders finished with 42 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.

Although the Razorbacks finished last season as the SEC's second-best rushing team, they struggled to get the ground game going against Western Carolina, finishing with 105 rushing yards on 36 carries.

At one point, Arkansas had -7 rushing yards with six minutes to play in the first half.

"We’ve got some things to clean up with penalties," Pittman said. "Our run game was not what we wanted it to be but let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill."

The Hogs racked up 379 total yards in offensive coordinator Dan Enos' first game back with Arkansas in six years, and a lot of the production came thanks to momentum created by the defense.

"I knew how he was going to call the game," Jefferson said. "We communicated on the sidelines on the headsets. I would tell him what I was seeing and we would tell me what he was seeing so it was just great communication between the two of us and we were on the same page."

Arkansas forced five turnovers as redshirt senior defensive back Hudson Clark, senior defensive back Dwight McGlothern, junior defensive back Jayden Johnson and freshman linebacker Brad Spence all had interceptions.

Clark's interception set the Razorbacks up with excellent field position inside the Catamount 31-yard-line. Jefferson then connected with senior wide receiver Isaac TeSlaa for a touchdown on the following play to give Arkansas a 21-0 lead with just over three minutes to play in the first quarter.

"We just feed off each other," Jefferson said. "They create takeaways and we turn that takeaway into an explosive play on offense. It was good playing on both parts."

Western Carolina's largest offensive gain in the first half turned disastrous when sophomore running back Branson Adams fumbled after a 22-yard run. Arkansas recovered with 2:44 to play and quickly put together an eight-play, 47-yard drive, which ended with a one-yard rushing score from Sanders as time expired.

"Anytime you start fast you take a chance on what you do," Pittman said. "We talked about physicality and it worked. I don’t know if it would work every time but it worked. The defense started fast and had two or three 3-and-outs in a row and the offense went right back and scored. We were a little slow in the second quarter but scoring at the end gave us momentum going up 35-3."

The Razorbacks led 35-3 at the half and added one touchdown in the third quarter and two in the fourth to seal the victory.

The Catamounts could never find a rhythm on offense as the Hogs held them to 291 total yards in Travis Williams' first game in the booth as defensive coordinator.

"We came out with a lot of juice," Arkansas redshirt junior linebacker Jaheim Thomas said. "We made tackles and flew to the ball. Having that energy, guys making plays, having fun; I think that helped us going into the first game. I feel real comfortable with the defense and my teammates."

Arkansas will host Kent State on Sept. 9. Coverage from Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium begins at 3 p.m. Central on the SEC Network.

Before You Leave, Check This Out