Points off turnovers critical for Hogs in season-opening win
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The Razorbacks came away with a 31-24 win over No. 23 Cincinnati to open the 2022 season Saturday, but it was not the most aesthetically pleasing victory.
Arkansas redshirt junior quarterback KJ Jefferson posted a classic performance, racking up four total touchdowns, but the lackluster play from Cincinnati quarterback Ben Bryant bailed an injury-ridden Razorback secondary out on multiple occasions.
There were plenty of places the Hogs could have lost the game Saturday, but one critical area propelled them to victory — near-perfect sequences following turnovers. Two offensive miscues for the Bearcats turned into 14 points for Arkansas, and the Hogs' lone turnover only resulted in a field goal, rather than a game-tying touchdown.
After 10 plays and three third down conversions, the Cincinnati offense was poised to keep marching on its opening drive, but Razorback junior cornerback Dwight McGlothern had other plans. He swooped in front of a waiting Tyler Scott, grabbed Bryant's pass and took it 51 yards to the Bearcats' 26-yard line.
Two plays later, Arkansas had moved the sticks into the red zone, and Jefferson took care of the last 15 yards himself for the first six points of the season.
Rather than facing a one-score deficit, the Hogs found themselves a touchdown ahead a little after the halfway mark of the first quarter.
"That was a game changer," Arkansas redshirt senior safety Simeon Blair said of McGlothern's interception. "I was ready to get off the field. They were driving. That’s a play that we watched in film. We do a lot of film study together, whether that’s on our own, with the coaches or after just in the hotel room. We watched that play 100 times, and he saw the play, broke on it and set us up in a big position."
After three consecutive touchdown drives to begin the second half, it was the Bearcats who had a golden opportunity to return the favor with seven points off turnovers of their own. A short kick return and a holding penalty set the Hogs up at their own 8, and when Cincinnati recovered a bobbled snap at the 3, it looked like their seven-point cushion was as good as gone.
Before the Bearcats could even run a play, however, a false start and an illegal formation backed them up to the 13-yard line. To make things worse, they committed two delay of game infractions, forcing them to settle for a field goal rather than score their third straight touchdown, tie the game and take control of the momentum.
"That was the crowd," Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman said. "Ten of those yards was Razorback Nation, so we thank them for that."
Fast forward to the fourth quarter, when the Hogs ran arguably their worst drive. Consecutive sacks pinned them at their own 2-yard line, and it took a 22-yard completion to senior tight end Trey Knox to give freshman punter Max Fletcher some breathing room.
A 30-yard punt return for the Bearcats gave them possession inside the Arkansas 40, and again, they needed just seven points to knot the score. Fortunately for the Razorbacks, their poor drive preceded Cincinnati's worst. It consisted of two negative plays, the second of which was a 12-yard strip sack by redshirt senior defensive end Jordan Domineck.
The Georgia Tech transfer also fell on the ball, regaining possession in plus territory.
"It was a textbook defensive end play," Razorback senior linebacker Bumper Pool said "Just stuff like that is going to be a part of our DNA this year. I was excited to see that flash the first game."
This time, Arkansas needed just two plays to punish Cincinnati for the turnover. A 17-yard gain for redshirt junior Jadon Haselwood set up a 32-yard catch-and-run for Knox, his second score of the game.
In a matter of 65 seconds, Razorback fans went from sweating about a potential game-tying drive to being elated about a 14-point advantage.
"I mean, it’s huge whenever we can turn the ball over and then (the offense) can capitalize on it, it’s big for momentum," Pool said.
Although the Bearcats brought it back within seven points, they did not have enough time to make up for the miscues. They had plenty of opportunities to sink Arkansas at home, but the Hogs maximized their own points off turnovers while limiting Cincinnati's, and that was ultimately the difference in the game.
The 1-0 Razorbacks are scheduled to return to action at 11 a.m. Saturday in Fayetteville against the South Carolina Gamecocks. The contest will be broadcast on ESPN.