HOGS: Jefferson kinda recalls Death Valley
FAYETTEVILLE - KJ Jefferson’s first start as Arkansas' quarterback came in 2019 at LSU’s Tiger Stadium, alias Death Valley, where the Razorbacks play Saturday night.
Circumstances differ vastly now for Jefferson and LSU.
Back in 2019, Barry Lunney Jr., now the offensive coordinator at 9-0 Texas-San Antonio, was Arkansas’ interim coach, finishing the Chad Morris regime’s two-year 0-16 SEC string.
Freshman Jefferson got his only 2019 start before being literally knocked out with a concussion in a 56-20 loss to Coach Ed Orgeron’s national champion Tigers.
At 6:30 p.m. Saturday on the SEC Network, Jefferson returns to Death Valley for this SEC West game as the nine-game sophomore starter for the bowl-eligible Razorbacks. LSU, with Orgeron dismissed at season’s end, is 4-5 overall and last in the SEC West at 2-4. The Tigers put up a gallant effort last week in a 20-16 loss at No. 2 and reigning national champion Alabama.
Jefferson (in Craven Whitlow photo TOP) vowed Tuesday evening that these Razorbacks won't stroll into Death Valley overconfident after posting six wins for the first time since Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks went 7-6 in 2016.
“There’s no relaxing,” Jefferson asserted, citing the November four-game run they promised themselves upon snapping a three-game losing streak (all SEC games) two games ago with a 45-3 non-conference rout of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Last week, the Hogs dropped SEC rival Mississippi State 31-28.
“We’re trying to continue the run we started with the UAPB game and just keep it rolling,” Jefferson said. “We’re trying to finish the season on a good, positive note. We know we’re eligible for a bowl, and we get to go bowling, but we’re still putting our best foot forward. We’ve got to finish the season strong.”
TIGERS NOT TAILING
Jefferson assumes the Tigers won't go into a tailspin.
“I’m expecting them to come out and play hard,” Jefferson said. “It’s going to be a good matchup. We’re going to play hard. They’re going to play hard. We’re not worried about them taking a break from playing Alabama. I mean, it’s the SEC. You have to bring your A-game each and every game.”
He knows part of LSU’s A-game will be directed at him.
“The thing that stands out the most to me is they have a lot of different fronts and a lot of blitzes they like to call,” Jefferson said. “They’re very successful with blitzing.”
Jefferson was asked to recall his memory of playing at Tiger Stadium, a day game when Jefferson played in 2019.
“The only thing I really remember is it being very loud down there,” Jefferson said. “Like extremely loud. Probably one of the loudest places I've played, so far. That's about the only thing I remember about Death Valley."
What Jefferson has displayed passing and running this season renders him on LSU’s radar.
"The main thing is I'm more confident now, confident in my decision-making and confident in my play and and making sure my guys have my back, and I have their back."
Last week’s Arkansas vs. Mississippi State telecast noted the blood on Jefferson’s knee, which later mystified Jefferson.
“I didn’t have a busted knee at all,” Jefferson said. “People were coming up to me asking me was my knee alright, but that was paint from the Hog.”
FOUCHA GOES HOME
Senior safety Joe Foucha of New Orleans, and with ties to Baton Rouge, returns to Louisiana as a Hog for the final time.
“I'm still trying to get as many tickets as I can,” Foucha said. “I'm at about 24 right now, so I'm still looking for more tickets.”
Foucha loves seeing family and friends and would love even more to bring back to Fayetteville the Golden Boot Trophy, awarded annually to the Arkansas-LSU winner.
In their annual SEC West game, the Hogs last beat LSU in 2014.
“I've never had the Boot trophy,” Foucha said. “It’s a big game for us all, not just me.”