FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- - Trelon Smith's 2-yard touchdown run with 12:44 left in the fourth quarter was the game-winner, and Arkansas rallied to beat Rice 38-17 on Saturday in both teams' season opener.
Smith was Arkansas' most consistent offensive player in a game the Razorbacks struggled on that side of the ball. He finished with 102 yards on 22 carries with the score.
The Razorbacks opened the scoring on a 34-yard touchdown run by first-year starter KJ Jefferson, but gave up the next three scores and trailed 17-7 midway through the third. Jefferson scored again on the ground, from 5 yards, and Cam Little's 34-yard field goal tied the game at the end of the quarter.
Smith's go-ahead touchdown was set up two plays prior when Jalen Catalon intercepted Rice quarterback Wiley Green after Arkansas defensive lineman Markell Utsey deflected the ball. Catalon picked it off at the Rice 48 and returned it inside the Rice 10. Catalon would add another pick with 2:37 left to seal it.
Jefferson went 12 of 21 for 128 yards passing with a touchdown - an insurance score on a 9-yard pass to Tyson Morris - and an interception. He added another 51 yards rushing on eight carries with the two touchdowns.
Arkansas scored its final touchdown on 3-yard run by Dominique Johnson with 58 seconds left.
Green was fair until the fourth quarter when he threw three interceptions over the course of four Rice drives allowing Arkansas to clinch. He finished 12 of 25 for 152 yards with a touchdown and the three picks.
Arkansas looked like an SEC team in the second half after a poor first. More will be required against Texas next week.
Rice played well against its first SEC opponent since the 2013 Liberty Bowl for a half. Quarterback play may be the Owls' key to 2021.
Arkansas will host arguably its most historic rival Saturday when Texas visits Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium for the first time since 2006.
Rice and cross-town rival Houston play in Week 2. The meeting is the teams' first since 2018.