BYU rallies from double-digit deficits twice to get a road win against Arkansas, 38-31

The Cougars notch their first victory in SEC territory since 2019 at Tennessee.

(Michael Woods | AP) BYU linebacker Harrison Taggart (11) and teammates celebrate a win over Arkansas during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Fayetteville, Ark.

Fayetteville, Ark. • Kedon Slovis kept plodding along, waiting for the big throw to hit.

Throughout the night, BYU’s quarterback had been hit and hurried repeatedly. He had looked up at the scoreboard and found himself down 14 points early and 10 points late. His offense had been outgained 424-281.

Yet, BYU just needed one big throw to put it over the top in a tie game.

And with 12:46 left, Slovis took a chance a deep throw to Keelan Marion. It dropped for 37-yard gain and set up BYU in the red zone.

Two plays later, Slovis lofted another one up to Chase Roberts in the back of the end zone. Snagging a one-handed catch, Roberts came down with it for a touchdown to give BYU a 38-31 lead.

BYU had finally broken through, improving to 3-0 on the season.

“It is a tough team to battle back from [double-digit deficits] two times in the game,” Slovis said. “I’m really proud of the guys. … One of the more emotional games I’ve ever been a part of.”

BYU teetered on the edge early, with Arkansas building a 14-0 lead just four minutes into the game.

Safety Malik Moore took a bad angle an AJ Green run, allowing the Arkansas running back to get past him for a 55-yard touchdown on the third play of the evening. After a three-and-out by BYU, Arkansas returned the first punt for an 88-yard score.

But after a near-fatal start, the Cougars settled in to slowly climb back. BYU recored five straight stops. Three of those were three-and-outs.

Defensive coordinator Jay Hill made personnel changes, subbing in Tanner Wall in the secondary to play along Ethan Slade.

BYU tight end Isaac Rex (83) catches a pass in front of Arkansas defensive back Alfahiym Walcott (13) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

At the same time, BYU’s rushing game showed signs of life with LJ Martin hitting on a 45-yard rushing touchdown. He would finish with 77 yards and two touchdowns.

His second score, a 1-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter, would give the Cougars a 21-14 lead.

It wasn’t for long. Arkansas answered with 17 straight points to eventually take a double-digit lead in the second half. It was helped when Roberts fumbled with under two minutes in the first half, gifting Arkansas a field goal and the lead going into the intermission.

Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson started to wear on BYU’s defense, breaking loose for a 19-yard scamper to set up an Arkansas touchdown late the in the third quarter. It gave the Razorbacks a 31-21 advantage.

But just as Arkansas threatened to take a commanding lead, BYU’s defense came up with a last-ditch effort to save the night.

Following a 44-yard Will Ferrin field goal, Max Tooley intercepted a KJ Jefferson pass. It set up a 20-yard Parker Kingston touchdown one play later to tie the game at 31.

BYU got a break before Ferrin’s field goal attempt. Head coach Kalani Sitake elected to go for a fake field goal that was denied. But a delay of game penalty wiped it away.

The entire sequence, of the field goal, interception and touchdown, allowed BYU breathing room for Slovis to hit the final, 69-yard scoring drive that would give BYU the win.

Slovis finished 13-of-25 for 167 and two touchdowns.

The Cougars got their first win in SEC territory since 2019 at Tennessee.