KJ Jefferson

Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson put on an impressive second-half performance Saturday during the Hogs’ 16-13 overtime victory over LSU in the Battle for the Golden Boot.

BATON ROUGE, La. — Arkansas redshirt sophomore KJ Jefferson has routinely dazzled on the gridiron in 2021, usually decorating the box score with a few hundred yards and several touchdowns to boot. But when the Razorbacks took down the LSU Tigers 16-13 Saturday night, most of the praise shifted away from the hulking quarterback.

In a game dominated by defensive and special teams storylines, Jefferson quietly put together a performance no less impressive than any of his others in 2021. While he only threw for 142 yards and one touchdown, he was integral to the victory. He evaded sack after sack, not only to prevent the Razorbacks from moving backward, but also to create positive plays and drive up their time of possession.

The first half was characterized by a persistent and powerful LSU pass rush, and the pocket collapsed around Jefferson time and again. He only took one sack and maintained a 75% completion rate, but the Tiger defense and Razorback penalties seemingly extinguished any momentum.

Arkansas held the ball for just under 13 minutes in the first half, and only one of its eight drives lasted more than two minutes. The key adjustment between halves was establishing the line of scrimmage, knowing the Tigers were bringing blitzes, Jefferson said.

“Coming out of halftime, we established the line of scrimmage and just played our ball,” Jefferson said.

Jefferson might be selling himself short. The offensive line did offer him a bit more time before the LSU pass rushers could get to him, but it was his ability to weave and duck his way out of sacks that allowed the Razorbacks to move the ball.

The lone Arkansas touchdown was exactly that: the extension of a play the LSU defensive line had blown up. Jefferson dodged two Tigers, scrambled to his right and made a Derek Jeter-esque jump throw as a third defender was closing in. Sophomore running back Dominique Johnson was standing all alone at the 20-yard line, patiently waiting for the ball to arrive in his hands so he could take it to the house.

“Great quarterbacks keep their eyes down the field, and the only thing on my mind was making the play,” Jefferson said.

Later in the third quarter, Jefferson gave another pair of Tigers the slip, rolled out to the left and threw on the run, across his body to junior wide receiver Warren Thompson along the sideline. That pass, which was thrown to lead Thompson away from his defender, set the Hogs up inside the LSU 40, and eventually led to a go-ahead field goal in a game in which points were hard to come by.

Even when he did not turn broken plays into points, Jefferson’s escape artistry allowed the Razorbacks to hold the ball for close to 15 minutes in the second half. Four of the six second-half Arkansas drives lasted longer than two minutes, and the last one began with just 17 seconds before overtime.

The Razorback defense, which had longer periods of rest, came down with an interception and forced a turnover on downs in a half in which it only allowed three points. The unit delivered another interception in overtime, putting the ball in Jefferson’s hands once again.

The quarterback kept the ball three times, during the last of which he made sure to go down in the middle of the field to set freshman kicker Cam Little up between the goalposts. The rest, of course, is history.

Jefferson might not be able to dance his way around the big, bad Alabama Crimson Tide defense next week, but he could easily double down on his illustrious 2020 performance against the Missouri Tigers to end the regular season. After that, he will have an opportunity to deliver the Razorbacks’ first bowl victory in six years.

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