BYU (2-0) vs. Arkansas (2-0) 

Kickoff: Saturday, 5:30 p.m. MDT.
Venue: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (Capacity: 76,000)
TV: ESPN2
Livestream: ESPN.com/watch
Radio: KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM/BYU Radio Sirius XM 143.
Series: Arkansas leads, 1-0
Weather: Partly cloudy skies with temperatures in the mid 70s at kickoff and dropping into the low 60s as the night wears on. Less than a 15% chance of rain, but mildly breezy with gusts up to 8-10 mph.

The trends

For BYU: The Cougars defeated Southern Utah 41-16 last Saturday as the offense shrugged off that 14-0 win over Sam Houston in the opener and exploded for 41 points before giving way to second-stringers in the fourth quarter. BYU didn’t run the ball particularly well, so that has become a focus this week as it prepares for Arkansas’ revamped defense.

For Arkansas: The Razorbacks are trying to start the season 3-0 for the third consecutive season under coach Sam Pittman. They haven’t started 3-0 in three straight seasons since 1977-79, when legendary coach Lou Holtz was on the sidelines in Fayetteville. All three of their games will have been played in the state of Arkansas, although the opener was played in Little Rock.

What to watch for

The Cougars were steamrolled and embarrassed by the Hogs last year in Provo, losing 52-35 and giving up more than 600 yards of offense to the visitors. That loss caused BYU coach Kalani Sitake to take over defensive play-calling duties and eventually led to the dismissal of defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki, who engaged in a brief shouting match with a fan as he walked from the press box to the locker room after the debacle. Will BYU’s revamped defense be able to slow Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson? That’s the big question for new DC Jay Hill’s crew, which hasn’t been tested through two games against Sam Houston and SUU. Offensively, the Cougars will look to establish a rushing attack after it was missing last week against SUU, which loaded the box and forced BYU to pass.

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For Arkansas, which has also beat up on a couple of cupcakes, Western Carolina and Kent State, the question is how the Hogs will get their running game going without star RB Raheim “Rocket” Sanders. He’s out with a knee injury. AJ Green started in his place and ran for a career-high 82 yards on 15 carries. Green has rushed for 743 yards in his career and isn’t a slouch by any means, but Sanders is a difference-maker and all-SEC back.

Defensively, the Hogs will look to put pressure on BYU QB Kedon Slovis with linebacker Jaheim Thomas and DL Trajan Jeffcoat leading the way. Thomas had a career-high 12 tackles against Kent State, which wasn’t able to score in the second half last week. Jeffcoat had 1.5 sacks against the Flashes.

Jefferson has had some ball security issues in the past. Look for the Cougars to try to knock the ball out of the big guy’s hands any chance they get.

Key player

BYU running back LJ Martin looks for a pathway during practice in Provo on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

LJ Martin, Fr., BYU running back:  Having burst on the scene two weeks ago and rushing for 91 yards in BYU’s 14-0 win over Sam Houston, Martin is now the projected starter and RB1 in what is nothing short of a stunning rise to the top of the depth chart. Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said Martin earned the job because of his tackle-breaking ability. However, Aidan Robbins and Deion Smith are still expected to play and get plenty of carries themselves. 

Martin was a four-star recruit out of Canutillo High in El Paso, Texas, and originally committed to Texas Tech and then Stanford, so he certainly has the pedigree to perform well. He ran for 2,137 yards and 23 touchdowns last season at Canutillo. Throwing a true freshman into a road game at a boisterous SEC venue is a big ask, but coaches are confident Martin has the maturity to handle it.

Quotable

“Yeah, honestly we are just excited to go play Arkansas, right? Taking things one game at a time. Arkansas is next up on the schedule and so we are really excited for the opportunity to go out there and play. They’ve got a really good team and we are just really looking forward to getting to play football again this weekend.” — BYU defensive end Tyler Batty.

“I think the tape, to be perfectly honest with you, now they are 2-0, their tape (shows) they play extremely hard. They do. They did last year. I think they are a better football team than they were last year. Big, physical team. They have a guy at each level on defense that I think is pretty good.” — Arkansas coach Sam Pittman.

Next up

BYU: at Kansas on Sept. 23.
Arkansas: at LSU on Sept. 23.

BYU schedule

  • Aug. 31 — BYU 14, Sam Houston 0.
  • Sept. 9 — BYU 41, Southern Utah 16.
  • Sept. 16 — at Arkansas (5:30 p.m. MDT, ESPN2).
  • Sept. 23 — at Kansas (1:30 p.m. MDT, ESPN).
  • Sept. 29 — vs. Cincinnati (8:15 p.m. MDT, ESPN).
  • Oct. 14 — at TCU (TBA).
  • Oct. 21 — vs. Texas Tech (TBA).
  • Oct. 28 — at Texas (TBA).
  • Nov. 4 — at West Virginia (TBA).
  • Nov. 11 — vs. Iowa State (TBA).
  • Nov. 18 — vs. Oklahoma (TBA).
  • Nov. 25 — at Oklahoma State (TBA).