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Arkansas Razorbacks look to take step forward, starting vs. Rice Owls

Dec 5, 2020; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback KJ Jefferson (1) runs against the Missouri Tigers during the first half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 5, 2020; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback KJ Jefferson (1) runs against the Missouri Tigers during the first half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Last season’s 3-7 record actually marked a step in the right direction for Arkansas, which aims to take a bigger step forward this season, beginning with Saturday’s home game against Rice.

The Razorbacks posted identical 2-10 records in 2018 and 2019 – when they were 0-16 in the SEC — before notching three wins in coach Sam Pittman’s first season — a shortened 10-game campaign, all against SEC competition.

Arkansas no longer has quarterback Feleipe Franks (now with the Atlanta Falcons), so it is time for redshirt sophomore KJ Jefferson to take over behind center.

Jefferson has appeared in eight games (two starts) in his two seasons with the Razorbacks, completing 47.2 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and an interception. He also has 58 carries for 125 yards and four scores.

“My teammates have instilled a lot of confidence in me,” Jefferson said earlier this offseason. “I feel the confidence will take you a long way and help you overcome adversity as well.

“I feel like my teammates have just pushed me with, ‘I know KJ, you can do this. We need you in certain situations. Be big here. We need you to be a big-time quarterback.'”

Jefferson will have the luxury of a veteran offensive line that returns all five starters, as well as Trelon Smith, the team’s leading rusher a season ago with 710 yards, a 5.3-yard average and five scores. Treylon Burks, who led the squad with 51 catches, 820 receiving yards and seven TD catches, could have a big season as well.

On defense, Arkansas returns nine starters from a unit that struggled down the stretch. During last year’s season-ending four-game losing streak, the Razorbacks allowed 48 points per game. Grant Morgan and Bumper Pool, the team’s leading tacklers from last season, return to spearhead a solid linebacking corps.

Rice, which went 2-3 during last season’s shortened campaign, is expected to play two quarterbacks on Saturday: Wiley Green and Luke McCaffrey.

“Right now, I think the best chance for us to win this game and going forward is for both of them to utilize their talents for our football team,” Owls coach Mike Bloomgren said.

Rice is hoping for an improved rushing attack in 2021, as the team managed just 2.8 yards per carry last season with only one rushing touchdown on 216 attempts.

–Field Level Media