Arkansas survives Kansas in triple-OT thriller
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Arkansas coach Sam Pittman admitted he was exhausted after more than four hours of football. Who could blame him?
KJ Jefferson passed to Rashod Dubinion for a 2-point conversion in the third overtime and Arkansas held off a furious second-half rally by Kansas for a 55-53 win in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Wednesday night.
The Jayhawks had rallied from 25 points down in the second half to force overtime, but failed on a 2-point conversion pass from Jason Bean to Lawrence Arnold in the third OT to end the marathon.
"What a game, what a crowd," Pittman said. "I'm exhausted. I'm beat up. And I never played a snap."
The longest game in the Liberty Bowl's 64-year history set 24 records, including total points (108), total offense by one team (681 yards by Arkansas) and first downs (32 by Kansas).
Jefferson passed for 287 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 130 yards and two more scores to lead the Razorbacks.
"I just wanted to put my teammates in the best position to win and be able to tell the story (of winning the bowl game)," said Jefferson, the game's MVP. "I'm proud of everyone."
The Razorbacks (7-6) held leads of 38-13 (midway through the third quarter) and 38-23 (early in the fourth), but couldn't stop the Jayhawks, who scored 25 straight to force the overtime. Kansas tied the game at 38 with 41 seconds left in regulation after recovering an onside kick with 1:05 to go. Jayhawks' quarterback Jalon Daniels found Luke Grimm on 21-yard pass play and converted the 2-point conversion pass to Lawrence Arnold.
"We dug down deep and kept battling; we just couldn't close it out," Kansas coach Lance Leipold said.
Arkansas celebrated the win prematurely in the second overtime after stopping Daniels just shy of the goal line on a 2-point conversion try. But a targeting call on Arkansas' Quincey McAdoo gave the Jayhawks another try, and they converted.
In the third overtime (only 2-point conversion attempts), Arkansas got the ball first and converted. Kansas (6-7) did not.
Daniels passed for 544 yards and five touchdowns. He set Liberty Bowl records for passing yards, touchdown passes, completions (37) and total TDs scored (6).
"It was a fun game to play in," Daniels said. "The whole second half I played calm. A few times in the first half (he didn't), I played outside myself. I'm sure after the first half a lot of people tuned us out."
Arkansas and Kansas met for the first time in 116 years, and the Razorbacks used an old-school rushing attack to build their leads. Arkansas gained 394 of its 681 total yards on the ground. Dubinion added 112 yards for the Razorbacks.
Kansas played in its first bowl game since 2008, but was unable to stop a late-season streak in which it lost seven of its last eight games.
Arkansas was dominating despite playing with a roster thinned by opt-outs and transfer portal departures. The Razorbacks dressed only 51 scholarship players.
After leading 31-13 at halftime, Arkansas pushed its advantage to 38-13 midway through the third quarter on a 2-yard run by Dubinion. The TD punctuated an 80-yard drive.
But the 25-point deficit ignited the Jayhawks. Daniels passed for 342 yards and three touchdowns in the second half
"I do think there were so many situations where Kansas had to make the play and they did," Pittman said. "Until the last one."
During a span of eight seconds in the first quarter, Arkansas scored twice to erase a 7-3 deficit and take a 17-7 lead. An Arkansas interception two minutes later near the Razorbacks' 10-yard line ignited a 73-yard scoring drive that ended on a short touchdown run by Jefferson for a 24-7 lead. Arkansas led 38-13 late in the third, building a big enough cushion to sustain a furious Kansas comeback.
IT'S NOT KANSAS ANYMORE
Kansas was 2-10 in 2021 and finished last in the Big 12. But Leipold engineered a turnaround in 2022 that included a 5-1 start. The Jayhawks averaged more than seven yards per play this season to break a school record set in 1950 (6.4). "Things are moving in the right direction," Leipold said. "Sometimes I like to defer to you guys (Kansas media) and ask your opinion. I'm not being sarcastic. But I do think we're trending in the right direction."
Arkansas: Begins its fourth season under Pittman against Western Carolina on Sept. 2.
Kansas: Opens Leipold's third season, also on Sept. 2, at home against the Missouri State.