If there was one player in the SEC that caught the eye of coaches around the conference early last season, it was Arkansas QB K.J. Jefferson. His performance against Texas set the tone for what would turnout to be a solid 9-4 season for the Razorbacks and Sam Pittman.
Under Sam Pittman, the Hogs took a major step toward becoming relevant again in 2021, which is no easy feat in the SEC West, the toughest division in college football. Yes, the Hogs were humbled against Georgia, but so was everybody.
Over time, K.J. Jefferson clearly turned into the leader this team needed. You could tell he was hurting at times, which makes sense given that he ran for 664 yards and 6 touchdowns on the year.
OC Kendal Briles, who joined Pittman’s staff in 2020, says that having a returning quarterback in 2022 is a unique advantage.
“You can’t put a price tag on that. Just having that guy back with experience. It’s actually the first time in my career as a coordinator having a returning starting quarterback, so it’s just so nice to be able to have that.”
After starting 13 games last season for Arkansas, Jefferson should be very comfortable with Briles’ offense. K.J. completed 67.3% of his passes for 2,676 yards and 21 touchdowns with only 4 interceptions. His ability to scramble down the field and make up for broken plays is invaluable.
The Ole Miss game last season seemed to be the moment when Jefferson finally felt comfortable in this offense. Though the Hogs ultimately lost 52-51, Jefferson made a statement with his performance, accounting for 326 yards passing and three touchdowns.
KJ JEFFERSON JUKED EVERYBODY TO TIE THE GAME 😱 pic.twitter.com/t0HMMdYMBB
— ESPN (@espn) October 9, 2021
But now that he’s gotten a full year with the scheme under his belt, things should become even clearer for him in 2022.
We all know that the main component of Jefferson’s game is his downfield throwing. He has a cannon of an arm. But now, Kendal Briles is pushing him to get better in other aspects of his game, including the RPO.
“Things that he needed to get better at? The RPO world that y’all are all familiar with and being able to put the ball in the belly of the running back and be able to snap real fast and get it out and be accurate with it, especially to moving targets.
“The SEC West is (all) tight windows and so you have to be very accurate with it…” Briles added. “Being able to be incredibly fast and compact with his release and get the ball out and then hit guys in the face, which was what we’re trying to do. So he’s done a really good job of that.”
Early in spring practice, Sam Pittman discussed how Jefferson had earned the trust of his teammates before the 2021 season even began, and they named him team captain as a result. Even though Pittman was a bit surprised by the vote initially, this was the type of leadership Pittman was looking for.
“I was a little bit surprise because he hadn’t played before, but voted team captain. I shouldn’t have been because I understand how the team feels about him. He’ll be a captain again. He leads the football team, along with those guys in the secondary.”
Good. Arkansas will need that kind of leadership in 2022, especially with such a formidable non-conference slate. They open the year with Cincinnati, and they also travel to BYU and match up against Hugh Freeze and the Liberty Flames. Then in the SEC, the Hogs will get South Carolina and Missouri out of the East in addition to the gauntlet of the SEC West.
But Arkansas fans shouldn’t be overly nervous about this schedule. I can see the Razorbacks winning eight games next season and continue moving in the right direction. Maybe if Kendal Briles can keep molding K.J. Jefferson into a prime quarterback, the Razorbacks can surpass the early 6.5 win projection that Vegas has put out for 2022.
Either way, Kendal Briles is counting on one thing from his quarterback as we get closer to summer workouts and the trek towards fall camp.
“His leadership, I think, has been just so key in the success of the offense moving forward.”
Arkansas fans could be ‘Calling the Hogs’ a lot next season if Jefferson continues to progress as a leader on and off the field.