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Arkansas Razorbacks Football Still Feels Like An Underdog Coming Out Of Reversal Season

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas won nine football games last season for the first time since Bobby Petrino’s last two seasons in 2010 and 2011, but the Hogs aren’t quite feeling the love going into Year No. 3 under Sam Pittman.

“In the previous years, Arkansas was always slept in, and we’re still dirty under a rug,” redshirt junior quarterback KJ Jefferson told ESPN on Wednesday. “Now, it’s just to get back that working-class mentality that Coach Pittman instilled in us, just that hard, stubborn, stubborn mentality. No one is going to feel sorry for you, and everyone we’ve dug into that.

“This program is on the rise and we continue to build and get back to where Arkansas belongs.”

Arkansas was ranked 23rd in the AFCA preseason coaching poll earlier this week, but Pittman made sure his players saw ESPN’s Football Power Index rankings, which ranked the Hogs last of the seven SEC Western Division teams.

“I took it down to show the players, I didn’t tell them who was doing the rankings or anything, and I look around and say, ‘We’ve got them right where we want them,'” Pittman joked. “We’ll never have a problem getting a big head until we come in first because I’ll use it when we’re 2, use it when we’re 10 and use it when we’re gone. Our kids thrive on that sort of thing because they know where we come from.”

The Hogs had lost 19 consecutive SEC games when Pittman took over as coach during the 2020 COVID-19 season. Their dramatic turnaround in Year 2 under Pittman included wins over both Texas and Texas A&M, the first time that had happened since. 1988, the first back-to-back Southwest Conference Championships for Arkansas.

The Hogs’ schedule in 2022 will once again be one of the toughest in the country as all 12 of their opponents qualified to play or played in the postseason a year ago. Arkansas opens the season at home on September 3 against Cincinnati (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). The Bearcats played in the College Football Playoff last season.

“I mean, we love it when we get the toughest schedule,” Jefferson said. “The opportunities in Las Vegas come up and we’re always the underdogs. We love it. It’s just another chance to prove everyone wrong and come out with an upset. So we know we’re back to the hardest schedule, and it’s either made up or shut up. It’s the same as last year. Everyone charged us around this time last year too.”

Jefferson was one of the SEC’s breakthrough stars in his first season as a starter a year ago. He passed for 2,676 yards and 21 touchdowns and led the team with 664 rushing yards and six more touchdowns on the ground. Jefferson completed 67.3% of his passes and was one of five FBS quarterbacks to finish with 20 or more touchdown passes with four or fewer interceptions.

In 2022, Jefferson is confident he will be even better. Built more like a defensive end, the 6-foot-3 Jefferson has dropped to 240 pounds and wants to be closer to 235 by the start of the season. A year ago he played at 250.

“I can see it in the bag, just being able to move and get out faster when needed,” Jefferson said. “I don’t think many people expected me to do what I did last year with 250 pounds. Now that I’ve lost weight, I think my game will take on a whole new explosiveness.”

Pittman said Jefferson has looked “lighter and faster” this season, and while Pittman would prefer his quarterback not to get as many hits this season, he will also be careful not to overcoach Jefferson.

“I remember last year in the Texas game, KJ broke away and had some open field and he sees the safety and runs after the safety and there’s a big collision,” Pittman said. “Security is low for him, but KJ is trying to run over that damn man. I say, ‘KJ, man, you need to run away from him.’ He looks at me and says, “I’m just trying to set the tone, Coach.” You want him to be smart, but you don’t want to coach that personality out of him either.”

Jefferson said a third straight season under offensive coordinator Kendal Briles was a huge plus. Briles turned down a chance to go to Miami this season and stayed in Arkansas.

“It’s the discipline he brings and let me know you can’t force everything,” Jefferson said of Briles. “Anything that looks good may not be good. He has helped me understand the importance of playing on the attack, not trying to do too much or go against what he says. I know when he game, that he gives me that game for a reason and that he trusts me to perform that game to the best of my ability.”

Sources

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2/ https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/34382037/arkansas-razorbacks-football-feeling-underdog-coming-turnaround-season

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