It’s a battle of undefeated teams as Arkansas (2-0) hosts BYU (2-0) Saturday night in primetime (5:30 P.M. MT) on ESPN2.
After two consecutive home games to start the season, the Cougars will travel to SEC country to take on the Hogs inside Razorback Stadium. Meanwhile, Arkansas is hosting its third consecutive home game to start the season and looks to keep it’s perfect record going. A win against BYU would give Arkansas it’s third consecutive 3-0 start under head coach Sam Pittman. The Razorbacks have not started 3-0 in three consecutive seasons since 1977-1979 under legendary coach Lou Holtz.
Saturday’s showdown is just the second meeting between both programs as they first played last year at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Arkansas went on to pull away in the second half en route to a 52-35 victory.
BYU is 1-1 on the road against teams from the Southeastern Conference under Kalani Sitake, with a win over Tennessee in 2019 and a loss to Mississippi State in 2017. Overall, BYU is 4-7 against the league, with two wins over Mississippi State and wins at Ole Miss and Tennessee.
Date: Saturday, September 16
Time: 5:30 p.m. MT
Announcers: Brian Custer (play-by-play), Rod Gilmore (analyst), Lauren Sisler (sideline)
Location: Razorback Stadium (72,000) — Fayetteville, Arkansas
Arkansas 52, BYU 35 (2022)
The Spread: Arkansas -8.5
Money Line: Arkansas -300, BYU +255
When betting lines first opened, Arkansas was a 10.5-point favorite. It dropped to 8.5 throughout the week with the over/under dropping from 58.5, all the way down to 47.5. In regards to the money line, oddsmakers are favoring Arkansas at -300. The money line simply involves picking the winning team. With Arkansas at -300, those picking the Razorbacks would have to risk $315 to win $100. However, for those picking BYU, one would win $255 for his/her $100 wager.
SP+, a predictive analytics tool created by ESPN’s Bill Connelly, has Arkansas beating BYU, 33-22. Bill gives BYU a 27% chance of beating the Razorbacks, which is slightly higher than what ESPN’s Football Power Index is giving the Cougars. As of right now, the FPI gives BYU just a 21.0% chance of beating Arkansas.
We still don’t know much about either team as we head into Week 3 of the college football season.
Both teams have played inferior competition and had a close game too: BYU vs. Sam Houston (14-0) and Arkansas vs. Kent State (28-6). Both teams took care of business in their other games as the Cougars rolled to a 41-16 home win over SUU and Arkansas crushed Western Carolina 56-13. Those performances were what fans were expecting to see in both games, so the winner of Saturday’s game will not only get a P5 win before they start conference play next week, but it will help resolve some of the anxiety that has been building up to start the season.
For BYU, the offense needs to get going, especially on the ground. Despite scoring 41 points against SUU last week, the Cougars are still ranked 111th in total offense, averaging just over 325 yards per game.
The offensive line was thought to be one of BYU’s biggest strengths this season, but it’s actually or of the biggest weaknesses. Yes, the offensive line has been good in pass protection as they have yet to allow a sack, but the Cougars haven’t been able to get anything going on the ground. Facing inferior teams, BYU is inexcusably averaging less than three yards per carry. It doesn’t help that Arkansas hasn’t allowed a touchdown yet, and is giving up just 245.5 yards per game, good for 18th in the country.
For Arkansas, the offense sputtered last week against Kent State, gaining just 308 yards of total offense. In fact, the offense scored just 21 points as the defense had a pick-6 in last week’s win.
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson is the unquestioned leader of the Razorback offense. Starting for a third consecutive season, Jefferson will make his 30th career start under center on Saturday. A dual-threat quarterback that can do it all, it was bizarre to see Arkansas struggle last week.
The challenge only gets tougher this week as Jefferson will carry a larger load than usual without injured star running back Raheim Sanders who is out for the game. Cougar fans are very familiar with Sanders as the junior rushed for 175 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries in the win over BYU last year.
The good news for BYU fans is that the defense is dramatically better this year, and with Sanders out, the Cougars catch a break as they look to make the Razorbacks one dimensional on Saturday. BYU has been stout against the run so far this year and the fact that Arkansas is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry against the likes of Western Carolina and Kent State gives Hogs fans anxiety.
Prediction: Arkansas 24, BYU 17
Make no mistake, Saturday’s game should be nothing like last year’s 52-35 shootout as many are expecting more of a low scoring, defensive slugfest.
BYU is 4-7 against the SEC with all four wins by a combined 14 points, with two of those games going into overtime too. And for whatever reason, BYU doesn’t typically play very well when they travel east, so if the Cougars are going to win Saturday night, expect it to be another squeaker.
While I expect Arkansas to win at home, I think the game will be a bit closer than most expect with the Cougars covering the spread. Not having Sanders available for the Razorbacks is a big blow and BYU’s Kedon Slovis is an experienced P5 quarterback who knows how to deal with the pressure and playing in a tough environment. Add to the fact that the Cougars have a dramatically improved defense, gives BYU more than enough to return the favor and upset the Razorbacks.
BYU has done well in revenge games over the last few years too so I wouldn’t be shocked to see Kalani Sitake get another SEC road win. But based on what I’ve seen so far, it’s hard to have a lot of confidence in either team right now, so I’m giving the edge to Arkansas at home. BYU certainly has the talent, now it’s about execution.