Arkansas dropped its third game in a row falling to Mississippi State 40-17 in Starkville on Saturday afternoon.
For the third time in four games, the Hogs fell behind by a large margin early in the game. Mississippi State built a 21-0 lead before Cam Little booted a 51-yard field goal with 5:56 remaining in the first half. The start was similar to the Missouri State and Alabama games. Sam Pittman talked about the loss afterward.
“Well, obviously a lot of things went wrong for us, you know,” Pittman said. “We couldn’t convert third and ones and couldn’t convert two fourth and ones. That really, really hurt us. Certainly our tackling wasn’t good and we couldn’t stop their running game or throwing game. They are a really good offensive football team and we made some mistakes. We got within 11 and made a mistake on the kickoff. We’ve just got to do better. We’ve got to do better for our kids. That’s totally me. We’ve got to do better for our kids to win,”
A bright spot for Arkansas was the play of redshirt sophomore quarterback Malik Hornsby. He didn’t start the game, but entered the game on Arkansas’ second possession. He completed 8 of 17 passes for 234 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He also rushed eight times for 114 yards to lead the Hogs in that department. Hornsby injected some life into an offense.
“Yeah, he did,” Pittman said. “I thought he had some big plays both with his feet and throwing the ball. I thought he did bring us some life. Brought us some confidence. Certainly with him in there we felt we could move the ball and score. We had a couple of turnovers there. One of them I get, he’s trying to score points there at the end and we probably shouldn’t have thrown that ball. But I thought he played well and gave us a spark that we certainly needed.”
What went into the decision to go with Fortin instead of Hornsby as the backup quarterback earlier this season?
“Well, Fortin basically in practice had won that job,” Pittman said. “That was the decision there. He had a really good week. Certainly, there’s a difference in playing somebody’s first team and a scout team. Our scout team is a little depleted as well right now with all the injuries that we have. But when Malik came in there obviously he took off on the long run and we went down and scored. It gave us a spark. So, for the most part he played the rest of the game. For the most part, we did bring Cade back in there. We weren’t disappointed in Cade, it’s just Malik had brought us a spark throwing and running. So, that was the decision going into that for the game.”
With Hornsby entering on the second series of the game was that planned going in?
“Well, we were down obviously, but we had talked about playing both of them and getting them in the game early,” Pittman said. “I’m not sure he didn’t come in the second series, did he? I think it was the second series. We thought because we had a hard time early in the game protecting, we thought maybe we could put Malik in there and get on the edge a little more because they were firing at us up the middle with some of their blitzes and we thought maybe we could get away from some of that with and also use his running ability, which we knew that we were going to do. Yeah, we had that planned that we were going to play him, and then basically just try to go with the hot hand at that point. Certainly, he made some big plays and we stayed with him more than what we did with Cade.”
While Hornsby did have two interceptions, the one throw he would probably want back more was missing a wide open Matt Landers. With Arkansas down 27-10 in the third quarter, Arkansas had a third-and-goal play at the Bulldogs one. Mississippi State was expecting a run and Hornsby pulled the ball out and threw to Landers with no one around the receiver. However Hornsby pass was vastly overthrown. On fourth down, the Bulldogs stuff Rashod Dubinion for no gain. Hornsby and Fortin were filling in for the injured KJ Jefferson who made the trip, but didn’t play. Pittman was asked when he knew this week that Jefferson wouldn’t play?
“Thursday,” Pittman said. “Thursday I was pretty sure, wasn’t positive, but I was pretty sure. What happens is they have to do some type of physical activity. Let’s say this, I think he could have done the physical activity on Friday and got cleared and played today, but he hadn’t practiced. I mean, he had but it was indy. He hadn’t practiced a whole lot and to be perfectly honest with you it just wasn’t worth it to me and I didn’t want to put him out there. So, that’s what happened.”
Arkansas was 0 of 3 on fourth-down tries while the Bulldogs converted three of the five they tried.
“Their conversion rate was 3 of  and we were 0 for 3,” Pittman said. “And some of them were three or four yards they converted and we couldn’t get our yard. One of them, the last one was longer, but the situations there were hard on us today and we just have to do a better job of coaching to get those converted.”
Arkansas did much better on third down both offensively and defensively than against Alabama. The Razorbacks were 8 of 16 on third-down conversions while limiting Mississippi State to 5 of 13. Arkansas lost three in a row last season as well before bouncing back to finish 9-4 and defeat Penn State in the Outback Bowl.
“We’ve got to get healthy,” Pittman said. “We didn’t bring (safety Myles) Slusher. He was out. And of course Khari (Johnson) and JJ (Jayden Johnson) both go out of the game early in the second quarter. We’re depleted in the back end and we’re continuing to fight and those type of things but we’ve got to get healthy. Obviously we play a big game with BYU at BYU next week. We’ve got to find a way to win that game and then have an off week and hopefully get some of our players back a little bit.”
In addition to the play of Hornsby another positive was linebacker Bumper Pool becoming the all-time tackles leader at Arkansas. He had 14 tackles on Saturday to move to 409 career tackles, one ahead of Tony Bua.
“I just found that out as you were telling me that,” Pittman said. “He needed 13 coming in. I’m sure he would trade today’s game if we waited another week and he got it there with a win. But I’m so happy for him. He’s earned it. I tell you what he’s playing through some stuff right now and has been ever since I’ve been here as head coach. He’s a tough kid and I love him to death and he’s earned it.”
As far as looking ahead, can Jefferson get back early this week for practice?
“In all honesty, I think we can bring him in and get him — he’s had some running and things they have to test,” Pittman said. “He just hasn’t been hit. So I think we can bump him around a little bit even tomorrow, and have him cleared, cleared for Monday. That was the plan. After Thursday, when we’re going, he had a little bit of a headache on Thursday. A mild headache, and I’m going ‘Okay, that’s, I’m not doing it.’ And Dave (Polanski) and them were with me as well, I’m not saying that, but I say ‘Look, you practiced on Wednesday, we’re going to take you, but that’s it. We’re not going to do it.'”
With Arkansas trailing 21-3, Hornsby hooked up with wide receiver Jadon Haselwood for a 68-yard pass to the Bulldogs three. On the next play, Rocket Sanders ran it in from the three to pull Arkansas within 21-10 with 1:11 remaining in the first half. Haselwood had a big game catching three passes for 113 yards. Haselwood also talked about how Hornsby was in the huddle.
“He knew his role,” Haselwood said. “He kind of lived up to that. Of course, we didn’t get the outcome that we wanted. But he did his thing. He came in and led us and he made plays on fourth down, third down with his legs. So he did his thing. He did what he was supposed to do.”
After Mississippi State took a 27-10 lead with 11:16 remaining in the third quarter, Hornsby struck again. He tossed a 54-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Bryce Stephens for a 54-yard touchdown with 3:33 remaining in the third quarter.
Arkansas trailed 27-17 at that point, but then the Bulldogs scored the game’s final two touchdowns to set the final margin of victory.
Drew Sanders led Arkansas with 15 tackles on defense in addition to Pool’s 14. Hudson Clark started at middle safety and finished with eight tackles, two solo and had three pass breakups. He narrowly missed an interception on one of the breakups.
On offense, Sanders rushed 20 times for 86 yards and a touchdown. He also hauled in four passes for 49 yards. Stephens had two receptions for 59 yards including the touchdown. Arkansas finished the game with 483 yards of total offense including 242 passing and 241 rushing.
Will Rogers was 31 of 48 passing for the Bulldogs for 395 yards and three touchdowns. The Bulldogs finished with 568 yards of total offense.
No. 23 Mississippi State (5-1, 2-1) is on a roll now. Arkansas (3-3, 1-3) hits the road against BYU before getting a much needed bye week.