FAYETTEVILLE -- One University of Arkansas defender might have been happier than Antonio Grier after the transfer linebacker jumped to pick off a Kent State pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown to open the Hogs' scoring in Saturday's 28-6 win.
"As soon as he jumped and caught it, I just instantly started running down the sideline with him like a proud parent or something," sophomore linebacker Chris Paul Jr. said Tuesday night. "I'm just chasing him down the sideline the whole time. It was just an electric atmosphere and a great experience."
Grier, who caught the pass a yard behind the line of scrimmage, said his role was to hang out in the box. He credited teammates with setting up the second interception return for a score of his college career.
"My D-end [Jashaud Stewart] got up field because it was a pass," Grier said. "He got a great rush. The D-line, my two nose guards [Anthony Booker and Keivie Rose] were getting a good push on their O-line. I just kind of scooted in the gap and just jumped."
On the play, Rose quickly got around the right guard and was bearing down on Kent State quarterback Mike Alaimo, and Booker was not far behind, forcing a quick throw from Alaimo. Grier headed quickly for the end zone and skipped away from a diving tackle attempt from Alaimo to score.
The 6-1, 230-pounder, who also return an interception for a score against Tulsa during his time at South Florida, scored on his first snap as a Razorback. He missed the season-opener while recovering from a quad muscle injury.
"It wasn't frustrating at all," Grier said of the camp injury and having to wait for his 2023 debut. "I always keep God first in may life. Whatever He has for me will be for me.
"So it was just another obstacle that was thrown in my way. I wasn't fazed by it. I got upset here and there but not much."
Paul was asked why he said Grier's interception caught him off guard.
"It was just a great, instinctive play," Paul said. "He put himself in perfect position. I didn't know that he was going to just run up and vertical jump and intercept the ball. ... He's got great hands so I knew he would catch it if he got his hands on the ball, but it just caught me off guard in that aspect."
Return of Paul
Arkansas linebacker Chris Paul had a knee injury in camp that almost paralleled the time frame of the quad injury suffered by Antonio Grier. Then Paul had to sit out the first half of Saturday's win over Kent State due to a targeting penalty from the second half of the opener.
The sophomore said he was super eager to do some damage against the Golden Flashes, and he delivered.
"The mindset I had going into the game was really just to dominate," Paul said. "Going in, I just wanted to make an impact.
"Coach [Sam] Pittman put a real emphasis on that. He came up to me numerous times in practice telling me, 'You're not going to be out there in the first half, but when you get out there you need to basically introduce yourself again,' and things like that.
"Even though I got thrown out of the game, and I knew what I had done was wrong at the time, I talked to coaches and players and apologized to them. I sat back and just kept bringing that energy."
Paul wound up with five tackles, third on the team, a 6-yard sack and a huge hit on the goal line to stop Jaylen Thomas' on second and goal from the 1 as Arkansas kept the Golden Flashes out of the end zone.
"My pops always told me, 'Big-time players make big-time plays when it comes down to it,' so I came down and I made a big-time play," Paul said.
KJ Jefferson went 2 for 3 during fastball starts in full pads in Tuesday's practice, with both completions going for short gains to tight end Luke Hasz.
On the first snap, Jefferson got the ball off just as a blitzing Jaheim Thomas arrived and possibly tagged him as Jefferson made the throw in the left flat.
After Chris Paul met AJ Green on a handoff near the line of scrimmage on the second snap, Jefferson completed a throw to Hasz over the right side with safety Jayden Johnson right on his hip for a quick stop.
Jefferson's slant for Jaedon Wilson over the right side went behind the wideout on the final rep for the first units.
Jacolby Criswell went 0 for 3 with the second group, throwing incomplete twice for Tyrone Broden and once for Davion Dozier. Criswell dropped back and did not see an open receiver on his other rep and the play was blown dead. Cornerback Dwight McGlothern had a breakup on the first target for Broden on a crossing route.
Tight end Ty Washington and nickel back Lorando "Snaxx" Johnson got crossways early during the Hogs' edge-play drills to help jump start the physicality Tuesday. The pair shouted at each other on their opposite sides of the ball, each basically telling the other to bring it on.
As fate would have it, they matched up on the next play, a screen thrown to an outside receiver with Washington blocking Johnson on the inside. The pair got hands on each other up around the collar and had a standoff with a few teammates coming in to to cool things down before tensions mounted further.
The same group of injured players from Monday remained sidelined for the Razorbacks for Tuesday's full-pads practice outside Walker Pavilion on a partly cloudy day.
Tailback Raheim Sanders, defensive backs Malik Chavis and Dallas Young, offensive linemen Luke Brown and Terry Wells, and defensive lineman Quincy Rhodes did rehab work on the sidelines.
BYU Coach Kalani Sitake said receiver Kody Epps would probably make his 2023 debut on Saturday at Arkansas after missing the first two games with an undisclosed injury.
Epps had 9 nine catches on 14 targets for a career-high 125 yards and a touchdown in the Cougars' 52-35 loss to Arkansas last season. He suffered a season-ending shoulder injury the following week at Liberty.
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson has made some notable sack escapes in his career, including one in the opener, when he took a straight-on shot from Western Carolina linebacker Va Lealaimatafao in the pocket, spun out of trouble and completed a 12-yard pass to Andrew Armstrong.
But none can compare to the Houdini act he pulled against BYU last season, when he avoided take-down tries from three or four defenders, rolled right and hit Trey Knox for a 36-yard gain. The big play set up Jefferson's 15-yard wheel route touchdown to Rashod Dubinion for a 31-21 Arkansas lead with 40 seconds left before halftime.
"There was some error on our side," BYU defensive end Tyler Batty said when asked about that play Monday. "He is a big, physical dude. On that play, yeah, he got away from us. Believe me, I remember it vividly. I was the first one that got to him. I remember it vividly."
Perfect in red
Arkansas and BYU are two of the five remaining teams in the nation who are perfect at scoring touchdowns in the red zone this season.
Arkansas and Michigan State are both 8 of 8 on touchdown scoring in the red zone, while BYU is 6 of 6. Northwestern has scored touchdowns on all five of its red zone possessions, and UConn is 2 for 2 in that category.
Another 29 teams remain perfect in red zone scoring -- including Alabama from the SEC -- but each of those teams has had at least one field goal. The Razorbacks have not tried a field goal this season.
Early & often
Sam Pittman got a kick out of a reporter's question Saturday about Max Fletcher punting "early and often."
Fletcher, a sophomore, punted on each of Arkansas' first three possessions. All of his punts were fair caught and went 46, 41, 47 yards with the Golden Flashes starting drives at their 19, 27 and 28.
"I think early he kicked good and often he kicked good," Pittman said, smiling. "I do. I don't remember him shanking one or anything like that."
Those were Fletcher's only three punts, so he finished with a 44.7 average after averaging 49 yards on five attempts against Western Carolina.
Fletcher ranks 12th nationally at 47.4 yards per punt and opponents have two returns for one yard. He's had three punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
"I think that's pretty good early and quite a few times," Pittman said.