KJ Jefferson threw for 367 yards and a career-high five touchdowns to lead Arkansas to a 52-35 victory over BYU on Saturday.
Raheim Sanders added a career-high 175 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground for Arkansas (4-3), which snapped a three-game losing streak after rolling up 644 total yards on the Cougars.
“It was a must-win game for us, and I think that showed today,” Arkansas linebacker Bumper Pool said. There’s a lot of things that we had to change on the fly, especially in the first half.”
Third-down efficiency contributed greatly to fueling the Razorbacks’ potent offensive showing. Arkansas went 12-of-15 on third down.
“We put a lot of emphasis on starting fast on third down as well,” Jefferson said. “Look at all our games before this one: 3-and-out, 3-and-out, not being able to convert. Now just with the way we’re running practice, now putting big emphasis on it, everybody is buying into third down and moving the chains.”
Jaren Hall threw for a career-high 356 yards and three touchdowns to lead BYU (4-3). Puka Nacua had 141 receiving yards and Kody Epps added a career-high 125 receiving yards for the Cougars. Nacua also scored three touchdowns.
BYU tallied 471 total yards, but the Cougars lost their second straight game after repeatedly allowing quick scoring drives and committing three turnovers.
“What’s frustrating is losing the turnover battle because that’s not our identity,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “We’re focused on taking care of the football, and I didn’t feel like we did well enough at that today.”
BYU cut the deficit to 38-35 on a 33-yard catch by Nacua in the third quarter. Arkansas rallied with back-to-back touchdowns – culminating in a 64-yard scamper down the sidelines by Sanders – that extended its lead to 52-35 early in the fourth.
“Arkansas didn’t do anything to get us out of our game plan, and we knew we were coming in for a shootout, but there were struggles with execution in all phases of the game,” Nacua said.
Hall picked apart the Arkansas defense early in the first half. He threw a pair of first quarter touchdown passes to give the Cougars a 13-7 lead. Nacua’s 31-yard grab along the sideline on 4th-and-8 set up the first score. Epps dashed in for BYU’s second touchdown on a 21-yard catch-and-run.
The Razorbacks answered both touchdowns and seized a 14-13 lead early in the second quarter after Jefferson completed seven straight pass attempts, culminating in a 6-yard toss to Trey Knox.
BYU regained a 21-14 lead on a 5-yard run by Nacua but then lost momentum for good on back-to-back turnovers.
Hall fumbled the snap on fourth down at the BYU 34, setting up a go-ahead touchdown for the Razorbacks on a 4-yard grab by Matt Landers. Then, after Hall threw an interception to Hudson Clark, Arkansas extended its lead to 31-21 before halftime on a 15-yard catch by Rashod Dubinion – the third touchdown pass for Jefferson in the second quarter.
“That was the big turning point in the game because, let’s face facts, we hadn’t been able to stop them,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said. “We get it, and we go right down and score.”
Arkansas: The Razorbacks shook off a slow start and scored on eight consecutive drives extending deep into the fourth quarter. Arkansas ran 82 total plays and averaged 7.9 yards per play. Jefferson racked up five touchdown passes over the second and third quarters.
BYU: The Cougars took a half before they generated any consistent production in the run game. BYU tallied just 29 rushing yards on 11 running plays before halftime. Then, in the third quarter, the Cougars rushed for 77 yards and a touchdown while averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
Arkansas visits Auburn on Oct. 29.
BYU visits Liberty next Saturday.