Matt Landers catch vs Cincinnati

Senior wide receiver Matt Landers advances the ball during Saturday’s game against No. 23 Cincinnati. The Razorbacks defeated the Bearcats 31-24 to begin the season 1-0.

Arkansas made just enough plays Saturday, as the Razorbacks were able to outlast the Cincinnati Bearcats 31-24 in front of 74,751 cardinal-clad fans inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

The victory is the Hogs’ second consecutive season-opening win, and their fifth win over a ranked opponent in the Sam Pittman era.

“(I was) really proud of our team to beat a top-25 team — and I think they are,” Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman said in his postgame press conference. “We needed everybody today, and I am real proud to be 1-0.”

With Cincinnati driving and Arkansas needing a stop, junior defensive back Dwight McGlothern read Cincinnati quarterback Ben Bryant beautifully, stepping in front of his pass, grabbing an interception and taking it 51 yards to the Cincinnati 26, setting up the Arkansas offense in plus territory.

Just three plays later, redshirt junior quarterback KJ Jefferson, who went for 226 yards passing and three touchdowns, as well as 62 yards and another touchdown on the ground, scampered 15 yards to paydirt, giving the Razorbacks an early 7-0 lead.

“Just that experience, man,” senior tight end Trey Knox said of what Jefferson brings to the Razorback offense. “He’s been in situations before, and he knows how to handle himself and handle the whole offense.”

After a less-than-stellar punt and a personal foul penalty, the Bearcats took over at the Arkansas 29-yard line. With a short field, they quickly drove toward the goal line. Facing third-and-3 at the Arkansas 7-yard line, the Hogs stiffened up forcing a field goal attempt from Bearcat kicker Ryan Coe that sailed wide right, preserving the seven-point cushion for the Razorbacks.

With just over a minute left in the first half, Arkansas picked up a huge 37-yard run from sophomore Raheim “Rocket” Sanders — who finished the game with 117 yards — that set the Hogs up with a first-and-goal at the Cincinnati 5-yard line. A play later, Jefferson found Knox with a jump pass in the end zone, giving the Razorbacks a 14-0 lead with 22 seconds to play in the half.

“I ain't gonna lie, I couldn't find KJ when I turned back around,” Knox said “Then I just see the ball float in the air, and I said 'How am I gonna catch this?'I started backpedaling...I just kind of, like, jumped backwards. I mean, I caught the ball, so the rest is history.”

Coming out of halftime, the Bearcat offense used a 12-play, 75-yard drive that took just over four minutes off the clock to cut into the Arkansas lead 14-7 after a 5-yard score from running back Corey Kiner.

The Razorbacks responded, going 75 yards on eight plays with Jefferson hitting redshirt junior wide receiver Jadon Haselwood with a 19-yard touchdown pass, giving the Hogs a 21-7 lead with eight minutes to play in the third quarter.

Cincinnati quickly responded when Bryant hit Bearcat wideout Nick Mardner with a 35-yard bomb to again cut the Razorback lead to seven at 21-14.

After an Arkansas turnover deep in its own territory, the Razorback defense made a huge goal-line stand — aided by four Cincinnati penalties — to force a 26-yard field goal. With 4:44 to play in the third quarter, Arkansas held a slim 21-17 lead.

“That was huge,” senior linebacker Bumper Pool said. “Whenever we got down there, (redshirt senior defensive back) Sim(eon Blair) and I were trying to get everyone going. ‘Hey, listen. Lock in and only let them have three.’ The crowd got behind us. The place was rocking and super loud. Very deafening. It’s a cool feeling whenever you get the fans going like that.”

After a promising drive halted in the red zone, sophomore kicker Cam Little hit a 32-yard field goal to extend the Arkansas lead to 24-17 with just over a minute to play in the third quarter.

Needing a stop with Cincinnati driving, graduate transfer defensive end Jordan Domineck came up with a massive strip sack to give the Razorbacks the momentum and the ball with 10:31 left in the ballgame.

“He goes up field, hits them with a spin move back inside, and then strips the ball out and picks it up,” Pool said in his postgame interview. “I mean, it was a textbook defensive end play. Just stuff like that is going to be a part of our DNA.”

Arkansas struck quickly when Jefferson found Knox again, this time from 32 yards out, giving the Razorbacks a 31-17 lead with 9:52 left in the game. The reception was Knox’s sixth of the game, and brought his yardage total to 75.

The Bearcats again were able to respond, going 75 yards on nine plays in just over three minutes, cutting the Arkansas lead to 31-24 with 5:49 left to play.

The Razorbacks received two massive third-down runs from Jefferson on the final drive of the game, and the Hogs were able to run out the clock on a fiercely contested 31-24 victory.

The Razorbacks are scheduled to return to action with an 11 a.m. kickoff Saturday inside Razorback Stadium against the South Carolina Gamecocks. The game will air live on ESPN and the ESPN app.

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