Game location: Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Arkansas
Game time/channel: 7:30 PM ET/ESPN2
Spread: Arkansas (-8)
Head coach: Sam Pittman
2023 Season Thus Far
Arkansas and BYU actually have had similar starts to the season. They have both faced a lighter schedule to begin the year, with two beatable opponents. Both teams have struggled to establish the run.
Arkansas handily defeated Western Carolina to open the year, 56-13. However, Kent State gave them a bit more trouble in Week 2. Even though the Razorbacks won 28-6, there are clearly some things for Pittman’s crew to fix.
Both teams are a somewhat underwhelming 2-0 with issues along the offensive line.
When BYU Has the Ball
Kedon Slovis made major improvements between weeks one and two. He earned himself a passer efficiency rating greater than 195, which is the sixth-best mark of his college career, dating back to his days at USC in 2019 and 2020.
BYU’s receivers and tight ends also showed up, with Darius Lassiter, Issac Rex, and Chase Roberts all notching more than 73 yards and each with a receiving touchdown. They will be tested with the talent and speed on Arkansas’ defense.
Where BYU will be most tested is along their offensive line. Arkansas is tied for the third most sacks in the entire FBS through two weeks, with 9.0. They also have the fifth-most tackles for loss. Safe to say, their front seven has been very disruptive, albeit against far inferior competition to BYU.
Either way, BYU’s offensive line must show marked improvement, especially in the run game. They cannot afford to become one-dimensional.
The running backs, more specifically, Aidan Robbins, need to step it up as well.
When Arkansas Has the Ball
Quite simply, Arkansas quarterback K.J. Jefferson is going to be a problem. As BYU saw in Provo last season, he is one of the best overall quarterbacks in the SEC. He is 6-foot-3 and almost 250 pounds, roughly the size of former Auburn legend Cam Newton. Heading into this season, he has had back-to-back seasons of at least 2,600 passing yards and 21 touchdowns through the air, with over 600 rushing yards and at least six rushing scores.
The biggest key for BYU will be containing Jefferson and not letting him play backyard football with receivers downfield. That means they need to get quick pressure and bring him down when they get a chance, something they did not do last season. Jefferson is very difficult to sack, given his size and improvisation skills.
A big factor in this game will be the absence of star running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders due to injury. He was one of the best running backs in all FBS last season, with 1,443 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Last season against the porous BYU defense, Sanders had one of the best games of his career, with 175 rushing yards and two scores. They have big shoes to fill in his absence.
BYU needs to make sure Arkansas can’t get the running game going to support the talented Jefferson. If Arkansas starts dictating the game on offense with sustained drives, this might be a long Saturday evening in Fayetteville for BYU and their fans that made the trip.
How BYU Can Win
The Cougars must build on the success they had on offense last week against Southern Utah (the jump in quality of competition needs no analysis here). BYU must do better than 2.1 yards per carry. The offensive line needs to be the aggressor, not the other way around.
On defense, it’s about taking advantage of opportunities. Those opportunities being getting Arkansas’ offense off the field quickly on third and mediums, sacking Jefferson, and any chance for takeaways. If Arkansas feels any amount of comfort on offense and is in rhythm, the Cougars will have a tough task keeping up.
Prediction: Arkansas 30, BYU 23