Cincinnati’s 22-game regular season winning streak has come to an end.
On the heels of a historic trip to the College Football Playoff, the No. 23 Bearcats opened the 2022 season on the road against No. 19 Arkansas and fell 31-24.
For Cincinnati, it was a case of missed opportunities and the inability to stop the run. In the first half, the Bearcats drove into Arkansas territory four different times but didn’t score a single point. Cincinnati’s offense played much better in the second half, but was unable to overcome a 14-0 halftime deficit.
And every time Cincinnati just needed a stop on defense to give the offense a chance to tie the game or go ahead, the Bearcats were unable to get it done. Cincinnati, which got as close as 21-17 late in the third, also committed an uncharacteristic 10 penalties in the loss.
The Razorbacks racked up 447 yards on offense with veteran quarterback K.J. Jefferson and running back Raheim Sanders leading the way. Jefferson threw for 223 yards, rushed for 62 yards and scored four total touchdowns in the win. Sanders, meanwhile, led all rushers with 117 yards on 20 carries.
Down the stretch, Jefferson made play after play, including several clutch first-down runs, to put the game away and give the Razorbacks an excellent season-opening victory.
On the other side, Cincinnati quarterback Ben Bryant was up-and-down in his first start in a Bearcats uniform. Bryant was the backup to Desmond Ridder for three seasons before spending 2021 as the starter at Eastern Michigan. Now back at Cincinnati, he beat out Evan Prater for the starting job and got a very challenging first test.
Bryant threw for 325 yards and two touchdowns, but he also missed an array of open targets and tossed an interception in the loss. Bryant sustained a bevy of hits from an aggressive Arkansas pass rush and did not get much help from a running game that was just OK on the afternoon.
Even though it was a loss, the Bearcats acquitted themselves well on the heels of losing so many players from last year’s CFP team to the NFL. Cincinnati should be one of the best teams in the American Athletic Conference once again, but Luke Fickell and his staff will undoubtedly be disappointed in the amount of missed opportunities in this game.
Arkansas, meanwhile, is going to be a handful in the SEC once again. After going 3-7 in 2020, the Razorbacks went 9-4 in 2021. Now in Sam Pittman's third season, Arkansas has the talent on both sides of the ball to make an impact on the SEC race.
A big question for the Razorbacks was replacing first-round receiver Treylon Burks. Trey Knox, a senior tight end, was the leading receiver on Saturday with six catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns.
On the outside, Matt Landers and Jadon Haselwood both showed flashes. Haselwood, a high-profile transfer from Oklahoma, caught a 19-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
On the whole, Arkansas leaned on the running game and ended the afternoon with 224 yards on the ground. With a visit from South Carolina on deck, it was an encouraging showing in Week 1.