Jefferson’s hot start helps Arkansas overwhelm Western Carolina 56-13

Arkansas wide receiver Jaedon Wilson (13) runs past Western Carolina defensive back Va Lealaimatafao (8) to score a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023, in Little Rock, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

K.J. Jefferson completed his first 12 passes while leading Arkansas to three first-quarter touchdowns, and the Razorbacks methodically put away FCS-level Western Carolina 56-13 on Saturday.

Jefferson’s second pass of the game was a wide-receiver screen to the left sideline that turned into a 65-yard catch-and-run by Jaedon Wilson.

The last three of five first-half Razorback touchdowns were set up by two interceptions and a fumble recovery, all in Western Carolina territory.

Jefferson spread 18 receptions in 23 attempts around eight receivers for 246 yards. He found Isaac TeSlaa, who played for three years at NCAA Division II Hillsdale College, for a 31-yard first-quarter score, ran for a 17-yard touchdown and used AP Preseason Second Team All-American running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders to finish short drives with runs of 3 and 1 yards as the Razorbacks built a 35-3 halftime lead.

Sanders, though, found running room rare against the aggressive Catamounts defense, especially in the first half. Sanders, the Southeastern Conference’s second-leading rusher in 2022, had 42 yards on 15 carries. Arkansas had 39 yard rushing in the first half and 105 for the game.

But Arkansas’ revamped receiving corps stepped up. Along with TeSlaa’s first-quarter score, transfer Andrew Armstrong was on the receiving end of a 16-yard scoring pass from Jefferson in the third quarter, and freshman Davion Dozier caught backup quarterback Jacolby Criswell’s first Razorback scoring throw, a 14-yarder.

Three Western Carolina quarterbacks combined to go 25 of 40 for 227 yards but had four interceptions. Desmond Reid scored the Catamounts touchdown on a 2-yard run.


After scoring from long distance on its second snap, Arkansas had a short field for its next four scores to take a 35-3 lead into intermission. Isaiah Sategna’s 17-yard flip-the-field punt return set the Razorbacks 47 yards from the goal line, and interceptions by Hudson Clark and Dwight McGlothern placed the Hogs inside the Catamounts 35. When Branson Adams broke loose for a 22-yard run for the Catamounts, he left the ball behind near midfield, and T.J. Metcalf recovered for Arkansas. The Razorbacks tacked on a Raheim Sanders 1-yard touchdown run on the final play of the half after Metcalf’s recovery. Arkansas had four interceptions for the game and turned the last one, by freshman linebacker Brad Spence, into an 85-yard runback.


The Catamounts, despite giving up a lot of points, showed enough spunk on defense to think they could be a factor in the Southern Conference. It was the offense and special teams that put the defense in tough spots.

The Razorbacks need to get the running game untracked when they play tougher competition but otherwise looked good for a season-opening game.


Western Carolina is at home against league foe Samford on Saturday.

Arkansas returns to campus to play Kent State on Saturday.