FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas withstood BYU’s first comeback Saturday night, but the Razorbacks could not survive the second.
The Cougars scored 17 consecutive points after Arkansas built a 10-point lead in the third quarter, and BYU earned a signature road win in its first season as a Big 12 member with a 38-31 victory at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
It was the Cougars’ first game against a Power 5 opponent since making the move from an independent during the offseason. BYU got revenge for a 52-35 loss to the Razorbacks last season on their home field in Provo, Utah.
“I'm really proud of our team fighting back," BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. "Just having that familiarity of playing against them last year, and we’d seen them on film, the guys were ready for a challenge this year.
"It was a really cool experience and it was a hard-fought battle. Things went our way a little bit more than they did for Arkansas.”
Quarterback Kedon Slovis threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Chase Roberts with 8 minutes remaining to give the Cougars (3-0) a 38-31 lead. Roberts, who earlier had a fumble that led to an Arkansas field goal, made a one-handed grab in the end zone.
BYU cornerback Eddie Heckard strip-sacked Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson and Tyler Batty recovered for the Cougars at the Razorbacks’ 38 with 3:49 remaining.
After kicker Will Ferrin missed a 50-yard field goal with 1:55 remaining, Arkansas drove to the BYU 16 but failed to score. Jefferson was hit as he tried to throw a pass to the end zone on the final play of the game and it was caught by offensive lineman Josh Braun, resulting in the Razorbacks’ 15th infraction.
Arkansas was assessed 14 penalties for 125 yards. Another penalty was declined.
The 14 penalties were the Razorbacks' most since they committed 14 against Texas A&M in 2011. The 125 penalty yards were Arkansas' most since it had 130 penalty yards against Vanderbilt in 2010.
"Obviously we didn’t play smart with 14 penalties," Arkansas coach Sam Pittman told Razorback Sports Network after the game. "It killed us. Turnovers killed us. I did think we played hard. We just didn’t play smart."
The Razorbacks (2-1) were flagged five times on their final drive, including a crucial holding penalty against Andrew Chamblee that negated a long Jefferson run to the BYU 19.
A false start by Brady Latham on the next play forced Arkansas into a first-and-25. Latham, the starter at left guard who moved to left tackle on the final drive due to an injury, was flagged four times for 30 yards.
"We couldn’t handle their defensive ends," Pittman said, "and we got hurt there at the end and had to move some guys around a little bit and got a couple of holding penalties and a couple of false starts that crushed us a little bit as well. You can’t win beating yourself and we did tonight."
Jefferson hit tight end Luke Hasz for 21 yards on fourth-and-18 to keep the drive alive, then threw a 5-yard pass to Isaiah Sategna to the BYU 16.
A holding call against Latham backed up Arkansas to the 26 for the final heave that did not clear the line of scrimmage. Jefferson threw the ball as he was falling down to avoid a game-ending sack.
Jefferson completed 24 of 35 passes for 247 yards and 1 touchdown. He also committed a pair of turnovers.
It was an uncharacteristic performance by Arkansas' senior leader. Some of his passes were underthrown and the typically bruising runner gave himself up multiple times on scrambles near the sideline.
BYU scored 21 consecutive points after Arkansas took a quick 14-0 lead in the first quarter, but the Razorbacks responded with 10 points in the final 1:43 of the first half to take a 24-21 halftime lead.
Jefferson threw 19 yards to Hasz to tie the game at 21-21 with 1:43 remaining in the second quarter.
Cornerback Dwight McGlothern forced Roberts to fumble on the first play of the ensuing drive. Safety Hudson Clark recovered at the BYU 29, but the Razorbacks began the drive at the 44 following a celebration penalty against defensive backs Lorando Johnson and Jaheim Singletary.
"They said our kids were trying to go into the stands," Pittman said. "And so … I don’t know if they were. They told them not to jump in the stands."
Cam Little kicked a 26-yard field goal as time expired to give Arkansas the 24-21 lead. It was Little’s first attempt of the season.
Little missed a 49-yard attempt early in the fourth quarter that would have given Arkansas a three-point lead. BYU scored the go-ahead touchdown on its next drive.
The Razorbacks scored on a third consecutive drive after the Cougars were forced to punt to open the second half. AJ Green’s 7-yard touchdown run gave Arkansas a 31-21 lead.
The run followed a 19-yard keeper by Jefferson to the BYU 7. It capped a 4-play, 53-yard drive that included a pass interference penalty by Heckard against receiver Jaedon Wilson.
But the Cougars were resilient and a little bit lucky. Holder Ryan Rehkow was stopped short on a fake field goal attempt in the third quarter, but BYU was flagged for delay of game. After the penalty, Ferrin drilled a 43-yard field goal to cut Arkansas’ lead to 31-24.
That drive was set up after the Cougars stuffed running back Rashod Dubinion at midfield on fourth-and-1.
"If I had to do it again, I wouldn't go for it on fourth down," Pittman said.
Jefferson was intercepted by Max Tooley on the Razorbacks’ next possession. Tooley returned it 24 yards to the Arkansas 20, and Slovis threw a touchdown to Parker Kingston on the next play to tie the game at 31-31.
Slovis, a transfer from Pittsburgh, completed 13 of 25 passes for 167 yards and 2 touchdowns.
It appeared the Razorbacks might run away with the game early. Green ran for a 55-yard touchdown and Sategna returned a punt 88 yards for a score within the first 3 minutes, 31 seconds to give Arkansas a 14-0 lead.
Green and Sategna were among five players who Arkansas strength coach Ben Sowders identified in August as having top-end speeds in excess of 22 mph. It showed as both players pulled away from BYU defenders to the deafening roar of an announced crowed of 74,821.
Green’s 55-yard touchdown run came on the fourth play after the Razorbacks received the opening kickoff. The junior from Tulsa broke a tackle attempt near the line of scrimmage, then another one along the sideline inside the 10 for his longest collegiate run.
After a pass interference penalty against Johnson on the Cougars’ first offensive play, Arkansas held BYU to negative yards on three plays to force a punt. Sategna fielded a 54-yard boom by Rehkow at the 12, quickly ran through 9 defenders and outraced Marcus McKenzie the final 50-plus yards to the end zone.
Sategna, a Fayetteville native who is a sprinter and hurdler on the Arkansas track and field team, recorded the fourth-longest punt return in program history. It was the longest since Joe Adams set the school-record return of 97 yards against Ole Miss in 2010.
BYU began its first comeback bid with a 37-yard touchdown on a double pass from the receiver Kingston to Deion Smith with 8:28 remaining in the first quarter.
Martin added a 45-yard touchdown run later in the quarter to tie the game 14-14. That followed a penalty called by the Big 12 officiating crew that visibly irked Pittman — an offensive pass interference against Hasz that overturned a third-down conversion in BYU territory.
A shanked punt by Arkansas’ Max Fletcher two plays later left BYU a short field. Martin scored on the next play.
"I just think we just fell out of a rhythm, really," Green said. "We tried to get things going again and we got a little bit of a tempo, but we just kept making...too many mistakes on our end of the ball."
Both teams largely struggled to run the ball aside from the long touchdown runs. Arkansas ran 39 times for 177 yards and BYU ran 31 times for 77 yards.
BYU scored 38 points despite Arkansas holding a 424-281 edge in total offense. The Cougars' scoring drives covered 53, 45, 70, 24, 20 and 69 yards.
"We gave them short-yardage opportunities, and they capitalized," Arkansas linebacker Chris Paul said.
Green rushed 9 times for 86 yards and 2 touchdowns as the Razorbacks played their second consecutive game without All-SEC running back Raheim "Rocket" Sanders because of swelling around one of his knees. Sanders rushed for 175 yards and scored twice during Arkansas' game at BYU last season.
Andrew Armstrong led the Razorbacks with 9 receptions for 98 yards, and Hasz had 4 catches for 78 yards.
Arkansas fell to 11-2 in non-conference games in four seasons under Pittman. The Razorbacks open SEC play next Saturday night with a game at No. 14 LSU.