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Alabama Football vs. Arkansas Preview: When the Razorbacks have the ball

K.J. Jefferson might quietly be the second best QB in the SEC. How will the Alabama defense try to contain him?

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Texas A&M Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

The Arkansas Razorbacks are entering year 3 of the Sam Pittman experience with Kendal Briles as the OC. While Briles does bring some baggage from his Baylor days, he also brings the inverted veer shotgun rushing offense that made the Bears so dangerous in the early 2010s.

They’re averaging nearly 250 rushing yards on 50 attempts per game so far this season, with sophomore Rocket Sanders moving into a full-time role after being an electric change-of-pace guy last year. He’s a 6’2” 225-lb former slot receiver that’s turning into dynamic, well-rounded running back with 6.1 yards per carry and another 120 receiving yards through 4 games this season. The Razorbacks haven’t really come up with a strong 1-2 punch running mate for him yet, but sophomore AJ Green seems to be the main backup so far.

What really makes the rushing offense go from good to terrifying, though, is junior QB K.J. Jefferson. The 245-lb mountain of an athlete has good speed, but is really just impossible to tackle for most collegiate defenders. He had 664 yards on the ground last year, and is already up to 274 and 4 touchdowns through the first four games of this season.

He’s dangerous on scrambles, of course, but he’s often used as the powerback on short yardage runs as well as a danger up the middle on those inverted veer read option plays.

And, of course, he’s also continuing to improve and grow as a QB. His sophomore stats? 67% completions, 9.1 yards/attempt, 21 TDs to only 4 interceptions. And this year? 69%, 9.7 Y/A, and 8/1 TD/INT ratio. Improvement across the board for the junior, and that’s without 1st round NFL draft pick Treylon Burks at receiver anymore.

He’s been a bit more spread out with his targets without Burks so far. Oklahoma transfer Jadon Haselwood leads the team with 18 catches, but with a fairly low yards/catch number. The 6’5” Matt Landers (who transferred from Georgia to Tulane to Arkansas has done more downfield work, leading the team with 230 receiving yards on 15 catches. 6’5” senior Trey Knox is still around for his 4th year as a contributing role player, and the rest of the targets have gone to Sanders from the RB spot and a couple of other receivers (all 6’2” or taller).

They’re an explosive rushing offense with an efficient passing game, though that hasn’t totally translated into total points, sitting at only 33.5 per game. Texas A&M was able to hold them to only 21 points, their lowest output of the season.

With that, though, Alabama’s rushing defense is arguably the best one in the country, and LB Henry To’o To’o is one of the best out there at sniffing out option plays. On the other hand, K.J. Jefferson is bigger than all four of Alabama’s linebackers, so the crew may have some issues bringing him to the ground even if they’re in position. I think a lot will hinge on Byron Young and the rest of the interior linemen to prevent Jefferson from just blasting up the guy, and allowing the linebackers to catch Sanders on the edge. Might this be the breakout game for freshman nose tackle Jaheim Oatis?

The corners will have their work cut of for them with the bevy of tall receivers, and I definitely expect some sideline balls to get completed after Jefferson shrugs out of a sack. While this is the best offense that Alabama has faced so far, I think it’s also one that the Tide defense schematically matches up well against. So I think matching their output against Texas A&M seems reasonable. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 17-24 points for the Hogs.