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Jefferson's Slow Start Against Rice Part Nerves, Pittman Says

Quarterback KJ Jefferson struggled in the first half against Rice, but bounced back with a strong second half and Sam Pittman is counting on it getting better.

To say Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson was erratic in the opener against Rice probably isn't correct.

Starting slow is probably a better description. At least that's the hope for everybody.

"I don't want to make a mountain out of a molehill there," Sam Pittman said at his press conference Monday.

Jefferson's start was the third of his career. He had one in Chad Morris' revolving door of quarterbacks in 2019 against a generationally great LSU team.

In 2020 he started the final game of the year against Missouri and most people were thinking right up to pregame warmups. The Tigers hadn't prepared for him.

Against the Owls, Jefferson was 12-of-21 for 128 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also ran nine times for 89 yards and two touchdowns.

We got the idea all fall camp what excited Pittman the most about Jefferson was that running ability. Feleipe Franks last year could run straight ahead pretty well but had a knack for tripping over yard lines down field.

Jefferson NEEDS to run because it sets up everything else he does.

"As soon as he becomes a runner I think he’s a better thrower," Pittman said. "I know that sounds silly, but I believe that it builds up his confidence."

But back to the whole starting slow thing. It's easy to forget Jefferson saw limited action for two years and the opener was the first home start. It is different.

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The nerves were on display from the start.

"The very first play of the game, he’s outside the pocket and just throw the ball away," Pittman said. "He wanted to hold it there. Part of that, too, is you never tackle him in practice. Part of that was, ‘I can get it off.’ Those were real reps."

What happened is once he got into the flow of the game he settled down. Well, there was the issue of the ball tending to sail high on him, which has been a problem since he set foot on campus.

"If he has problems it’s high," Pittman said. "But you know I was watching some tape on some high school kids that are 4 and 5-stars and they miss plays, they miss high too. I’ve seen Dan Marino miss a pass, you know what I mean?"

That's usually mechanics, primarily with the footwork. It also explains why he's better throwing on the move because it puts his feet in a more comfortable position. He's not really comfortable in the pocket.

Nerves added to the problems early and it caused him to force the ball which led to an interception on the first drive of the second quarter.

"That right there was stress," Pittman said. "That came from not having early success and I’m trying to make a miracle happen when we can just throw it away. I think he would throw it away nine times out of 10, but was pressing at that point."

He's hoping the nerves settle a little headed into the second game this week against Texas, but that's going to be another potential problem.

This is the biggest game in Fayetteville in a few years, it will be on a national stage at night with a crowd that will be building all afternoon.

Oh, and there is the problem they are facing a much better team than Rice.