In a Week 1 battle of ranked teams, the No. 19 Arkansas Razorbacks opened their season with a win over the No. 23 Cincinnati Bearcats on Saturday. Playing in front of their fans, the Razorbacks won by a score of 31-24.
Even though the Bearcats lost some of their best players this offseason such as Desmond Ridder and Sauce Gardner, they still returned quality veterans who helped them to the College Football Playoff last season. Because of that, this win by Arkansas could indicate there is something good in store for the Razorbacks in 2022.
Despite the one-score result, there are a lot of players from Arkansas who dominated and flashed some good potential for the rest of the season. Here are the Razorbacks who stood out most in their impressive season-opening win over Cincinnati.
The Razorbacks’ biggest standout players from Week 1 win over Cincinnati
3. TE Trey Knox
One of the most impactful and decisive players for the Razorbacks against the Bearcats was definitely Trey Knox. The senior tight end finished the game with six receptions for 75 yards, both the high marks on the team. Most importantly, he had two touchdowns, including a big 32-yard score in the fourth quarter.
KJ Jefferson ➡️ Trey Knox
Razorbacks make it a two-score game in the 4th quarter 🏈pic.twitter.com/vqnrmAPFvG
— 247Sports (@247Sports) September 3, 2022
Not only did he show good hands, but Knox also proved he remains dangerous with his legs after putting on additional weight during the offseason. Without his dynamic production, Arkansas would not have come out with the win on Saturday.
In just his first game in 2022, Knox has already more touchdowns than he did the entirety of last season. In 2021, he had 20 catches for 141 yards and just one score in 12 games. With his performance in Week 1, perhaps the Razorbacks might consider increasing his role in the team's offensive scheme, especially against opponents with stronger defensive lines.
Knox, who started his collegiate career as a wide receiver, is now showing that the coaching staff's decision to move him to tight end was the right one. If his blocking continues to improve, he could establish himself as one of the best tight ends in college football.
2. RB Raheim Sanders
Overall, Arkansas' offensive production was very balanced. The team had 224 rushing yards, just one more than it managed through the air.
However, there was one specific player who produced more than half of those yards on the ground. Raheim Sanders had 20 carries for an impressive 117 yards, the highest marks among players from both teams. His average of 5.9 yards per carry was very helpful for the Razorbacks, helping them earn crucial first downs and set up short-yardage situations, including late in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
Sanders also added 12 receiving yards on three catches, second-best on the team behind Knox.
Although he did not score, Sanders' presence was essential for the Razorbacks. He had multiple runs for 10 yards or more and is already showing a big evolution going back to his freshman year. In 2021, Sanders had 114 carries for 578 yards in 13 games. He also scored five times. Now as a sophomore, the running back has already replicated a good number of his yards in just the season opener.
If Sanders continues playing like this for the rest of the season, Arkansas has a chance to make some real noise in the SEC.
1. QB KJ Jefferson
Perhaps one of the most impressive quarterback performances of the weekend, KJ Jefferson's game is worth a highlight reel on its own. He opened the 2022 season completing 18-of-26 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He was also very impressive with his legs, rushing for 62 yards on 18 carries, including a 15-yard touchdown run.
KJ Jefferson has wheels! Oh, and he’s 6’3”, 243 pounds.
Hard to take him on, and even harder to take him down. Touchdown, Arkansas.
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) September 3, 2022
The quarterback picked up right where he left off in 2021. Last season, his first as a full-time starter, Jefferson went 198-of-294 throwing the ball, a completion rate of 67.3%. He had 2,676 yards and 21 touchdowns through the air against just four interceptions. He also rushed for a team-best 664 yards on 146 carries.
After the game, Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman praised his quarterback for his dominant performance.
“Seems to me like when the game gets a little tighter, a little closer, when he’s really got to take over the game, he’s got the knack to do it. Seemed to me like most every time we need him to win the game, he makes some kind of play.”
Jefferson is showing that he is a dual-threat quarterback who is not afraid of big moments. With the Razorbacks set to face tough teams such as Texas A&M and most importantly Alabama, having a playmaker like Jefferson under center gives them a legitimate chance for major upset victories.