MEMPHIS — Despite blowing a 38-23 lead with under three minutes remaining in regulation, the Hogs escaped with a 55-53 three-overtime win in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl before 52,847 fans.
The third overtime started with KJ Jefferson throwing to running back Rashod Dubinion for a successful two-point conversion. Kansas then tried a trick play bringing backup quarterback Jason Bean around on a reverse pitch from Jalon Daniels. It appeared that Bean could run it in successfully, but instead he sailed a pass far over the head of the intended receiver and the Hogs started the celebration.
“That’s what helped us tonight,” Jefferson said. “Coming together, leaders stepping up and being vocal.”
It appeared the Razorbacks were going to celebrate after the second overtime. Jefferson raced in for a touchdown from the 20. The two-point conversion was good with Jefferson finding wide receiver Jaedon Wilson. That gave Arkansas a 53-45 lead.
Kansas then answered that with a Daniels two-yard run for the touchdown. On the two-point conversion, it appeared Arkansas had stopped the Jayhawks. But the referee called a targeting penalty on Quincey McAdoo though it appeared he hit the ball and knocked it loose. After a review the refs said the targeting call stood and McAdoo was ejected. Then Daniels found Jared Casey to tie the game at 53.
The Razorbacks appeared to have the game won handily in regulation when linebacker Jackson Woodard deflected a Daniels pass on fourth down at the Arkansas 21. The Hogs took over leading 38-23 and Kansas had no timeouts.
On a third-and-three at its own 28, Jefferson found Matt Landers for a 43-yard completion to the Kansas 28. Some fans from both teams started hitting the exits thinking the game was basically over. However, after a running play netted minus-one yard, then the Razorbacks tried a reverse with Landers. He had a nice gain before it was ruled he fumbled though his elbow seemed to be down. Once again, after a review the ball was awarded to Kansas.
They had the ball at the Arkansas 48 after returning the Landers fumble to that point. In addition, Kansas overcame a holding call that had them facing a second-and-29 play at the Arkansas. Daniels found Kevin Terry for 30 yards and a first down at the Arkansas 10. On the next player, Daniels hit Douglas Emilien for a touchdown. The PAT pulled the Jayhawks to within 38-30 with 1:05 remaining in the game.
A successful onside kickoff gave Kansas a renewed life. On first down at midfield, Daniels completed a 34-yard pass to the Arkansas 16. On third and 15, Daniels found Luke Grimm for a touchdown with 41 seconds remaining in the game. Daniels then hit Lawrence Arnold for a two-point conversion to tie it at 38.
The way the game started overtime was the last time on anyone’s mind. Arkansas set an AutoZone Liberty Bowl record with 24 points in the first quarter. That is the most points scored in any quarter in this bowl’s history.
Cam Little started the scoring off with a 37-yard field goal. Kansas answered with a 29-yard touchdown pass from Daniels to Ky Thomas. Kansas took a brief 7-3 lead with 8:35 remaining in the first quarter.
But then Arkansas got hot. Jefferson found Landers for a 59-yard touchdown with 6:05 remaining in the first quarter. The Razorbacks caught a break when the wind played tricks with a Jake Bates kickoff that was fumbled by Sevion Morrison. Harper Cole recovered for Arkansas at the Kansas 17. On first down, Jefferson found tight end Tyrus Washington for a 17-yard touchdown. It was the first catch of the true freshman’s career.
On Kansas’ next possession, McAdoo picked off a Daniels pass at the Arkansas 10 and returned to his 28. The Razorbacks then put together an 11-play, 73-yard scoring drive that ended with Jefferson powering in from the 3-yard line. That gave the Hogs a 24-3 lead with 23 seconds left in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Arkansas also appeared to be in control. The Razorbacks went up 31-7 with 5:02 remaining in the first half on a 20-yard sprint by running back AJ Green.
Kansas did add a late touchdown in the second quarter when Daniels found Mason Fairchild for a 24-yard touchdown. The Jayhawks surprisingly opted to go for two and the conversion failed leaving Arkansas up 31-13.
Arkansas appeared set to add a late touchdown in the first half with a first down at the Kansas 9. The Razorbacks had moved into scoring position following a 32-yard run from midfield by Jefferson that saw a personal foul call add half the distance to the goal. However, on the next play, Jefferson was picked off by Kansas’ OJ Burroughs.
The Razorbacks struck first in the second half. Rashod Dubinion scored from the 2-yard line to give Arkansas a 38-13 lead. Dubinion and Green had to carry the load after Rocket Sanders exited in the first quarter with an injury. Answer it they did. Dubinion finished with 20 carries for 112 yards and two touchdowns while also catching three passes for 19 yards. Green added 99 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries. He also caught four passes for 30 yards.
“When 5 went down I had to step up, and that’s what I did,” Dubinion said.
Both Jefferson and Daniels put on a show. Jefferson completed 19 of 29 passes for 287 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also topped the Hogs with 14 carries for 130 yards and two more touchdowns. Daniels completed 37 of 55 passes for 544 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. He also rushed 14 times for 21 yards and a touchdown.
Landers had three receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown along with the one carry for 15 yards. Grimm led Kansas with 10 catches for 167 yards and one touchdown. Arnold added eight for 119 yards.
Linebacker Pooh Paul topped Arkansas with 12 tackles and had a quarterback hurry. Dwight McGlothern had 10 tackles, one for loss, an interception and a pass breakup. McAdoo finished with nine tackles and an interception.
Arkansas at this particular bowl has now won three games in a row. They also won the last overtime game in the Liberty Bowl when they defeated East Carolina 20-17 on Jan. 2, 2010. The Hogs also downed Kansas State 45-23 on Jan. 2, 2016. The Hogs lost their first three appearances in this bowl before going on this winning streak.
Arkansas (7-6) now is 2-0 in bowl games under Pittman. Kansas falls to 6-7 with the loss. It was the Jayhawks’ first bowl since 2008.