Jefferson generates 4 TDs to power Arkansas past Cincinnati

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson felt disrespected when he wasn’t named to any preseason all-Southeastern Conference team.

Jefferson’s opening week performance could earn more attention for the player who had the SEC’s second-best touchdown-to-interception ratio last year and was the leading returning rusher at the position in the conference..

Jefferson threw for 223 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another 62 yards and a score to lead No. 19 Arkansas to a 31-24 win over No. 23 Cincinnati on Saturday.

“Seems to me like when the game gets a little tighter, a little closer, when he’s really got to take over the game, he’s got the knack to do it,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said. “Seemed to me like most every time we need him to win the game, he makes some kind of play.

Jefferson established himself as escape-artist of sorts last year, his 240-pound frame proving difficult to take down. Little changed there as most of his yards on the ground came after contact against Cincinnati. Through the air, he built a rapport with tight end Trey Knox who caught two of the three touchdown tosses, including one that was quite literally a toss: a jump-pass from five yards to give Arkansas a 14-0 lead at halftime.

Cincinnati’s Ben Bryant, a transfer from Eastern Michigan, ultimately threw for more yards passing (325) and just one fewer touchdown, but an interception at the Arkansas 20 turned into a Razorbacks score on the next possession.

The pick was one of several mistakes the Bearcats made. Four of Cincinnati’s first-half drives ended in Arkansas territory, but the interception halted one and Ryan Coe missed two field goals, including one from 25 yards, as well.

Cincinnati had pulled within a touchdown on Bryant’s throw to Nick Mardner halfway through the third quarter and then recovered a Jefferson fumble inside his own 10 on the ensuing play. The Bearcats started three yards from the end zone, but four penalties later, including two for delay of game, they managed just a 25-yard field goal.

Arkansas followed with a 32-yard field three minutes later and Jefferson threw his third touchdown on the possession that followed, a 32-yarder to Knox, to rebuild the lead to 14 points.

Knox, a senior, was a starting wide receiver his freshman year and had 28 catches and three touchdowns, but had just seven catches his sophomore season in Pittman’s debut 2020 season. He moved to tight end and caught 20 balls as a junior last season. Saturday he had six catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns.

“He’s worked hard at tight end and he believes he’s a tight end. He is. He’s a good one,” Pittman said. “Coming off the field on his second TD and went down their side and I said `You happy you moved to tight end?’ Those are special moments because you never know if it’s going to work out.”

The game was Arkansas’ first Top 25 matchup at home since 2016.

The Razorbacks were 9-4 last season, their best finish since 2011 .

“When Cincinnati was put on the schedule I was saying `why?’ to be honest with you,” Pittman said. “Am I tickled to death that we’re 1-0 and we beat Cincinnati? Yes. I don’t want to play them. We’ve already played them once. That’s plenty.”

THE PORTAL GIVETH

Most of Arkansas’ big plays not involving Knox and Jefferson came from players picked up via the transfer portal. Domineck (Georgia Tech) and Drew Sanders (Alabama) had sacks. Dwight McGlothern (LSU) had Arkansas’ interception. Matt Landers (Toledo) started and caught three passes for 43 yards while Haselwood (Oklahoma) had three grabs for 42 yards and the score.

BEAT UP

Cincinnati’s rally came in large part because of the passing game. Bryant took advantage of Arkansas losing starting nickel Myles Slusher and starting safety Jalen Catalon late in the second quarter and early in the second half.

The Bearcats’ first touchdown came immediately after Catalon, a preseason first-team All-SEC selection and former freshman All-American, left the game.

Pittman said Slusher should be OK going forward, but he was less sure about Catalon. He did not disclose either injury.

THE TAKEAWAY

Arkansas’ offense, with Jefferson at quarterback, is SEC worthy. The defense struggled in the second half after losing two starters from the secondary.

Cincinnati had the talent to win the game, but its mistakes were too plentiful against a quality opponent.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Arkansas should find itself comfortably still ranked ahead of its SEC opener next week.

Cincinnati is likely to fall out of the Top 25 despite a fair showing.

UP NEXT

Arkansas opens SEC play against South Carolina at home in Week 2. The game will be South Carolina’s first in Fayetteville since 2013.

Cincinnati will host FCS opponent Kennesaw State at Nippert Stadium.

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.