FAYETTEVILLE — On Friday on Hogville.net and Pig Trail Nation, I had a story listing five keys for Arkansas to defeat Mississippi State.
The keys varied from offense to defense and even special teams. Here’s a look at how the Hogs performed in each of those five keys.
Keep the Receivers in front of Them
What I wrote:
Make the Bulldogs earn everything they get. Will Rogers gets rid of the ball very quickly so it will be hard to get sacks. But Rogers getting rid of the ball quickly means the Hogs should be able to keep the receivers in front of them and not behind them for easy touchdowns. But that also means the Hogs have to tackle extremely well, They can’t let 10-yard passes turn into long touchdowns. Tackle well, but that is something the Hogs haven’t done a very good job of the majority of the time this season.
The Hogs did do a better job of keeping the receivers in front of them. They weren’t perfect, but the longest completion of the day by Will Rogers was 38 yards. His longest touchdown pass of the day was 33 yards to Caleb Ducking. But at what expense did the Hogs do this? They stayed in a five-man box and three-man front virtually the entire game. They allowed the Bulldogs to rush for 173 yards and three touchdowns on 37 carries. Teams have figured out when the Hogs are in that front run the ball. In 2020 when the Hogs beat both Mississippi State and Ole Miss, both Mike Leach and Lane Kiffin were determined to pass against it. This year Leach was patient and ran the football more than his teams normally do. Barry Odom is usually this defense in large part because injuries are hitting the secondary faster than politicians throw critical remarks at their opponents. Yesterday, Khari and Jayden Johnson both went down. They were already without Jalen Catalon, Myles Slusher and LaDarrius Bishop. The bye week can’t get here soon enough for the Hogs.
Cut out Turnovers, Penalties
What I wrote:
The Hogs simply can’t have a lot of penalties and if they turn the ball over it could get ugly on Saturday. Arkansas has cut back on its turnovers, but have had some at very critical times even after cutting back. The KJ Jefferson fumble at the Texas A&M two and then Rashod Dubinion had a good run into Alabama territory on Saturday and then fumbled. Cut out the turnovers and limit the penalties.
The Hogs did anything but avoid penalties. They had 10 for 84 yards compared to only four for 45 yards for the Bulldogs. The Hogs threw two interceptions and once again didn’t force any turnovers from the opponent. Arkansas’ defenders got their hands on some balls and nearly intercepted some passes. So the Hogs didn’t avoid penalties or turnovers.
Get the Wide Receivers Involved
What I wrote:
Particularly if (KJ) Jefferson can’t play, the other Arkansas quarterbacks have to be able to pass the football. Get Jadon Haselwood, Matt Landers, Ketron Jackson, Trey Knox and Warren Thompson if he is able to play involved. The Hogs can’t be one-dimensional on offense no matter who is the quarterback. Cade Fortin was 4 of 10 passing for 35 yards last week. The Hogs ended up passing for 195 yards against the Tide. Fortin and Malik Hornsby can’t just rely on Rocket Sanders, AJ Green and the running game.
Hornsby missed a wide open Matt Landers that would have been a one-yard touchdown. He did find Jadon Haselwood for three receptions for 113 yards. He hit Bryce Stephens twice for 59 yards including a 54-yard touchdown. But he only completed one other pass to receivers. Ketron Jackson Jr. caught a 21-yard pass. Landers, Trey Knox and Warren Thompson all were targeted but had no catches. Rocket Sanders did catch four passes for 49 yards. Considering he went into the game as the third-string quarterback it’s very hard to blame Hornsby for not spreading the ball around more. He provided a spark to keep the game from being much uglier than it was. Hornsby was far from perfect, but he played his heart out and left it all on the field so I will not be critical of him.
Don’t Leave Points on the Field
What I wrote:
Assuming Jefferson doesn’t play points will be hard to come by. That is why when the Hogs get down in Mississippi State territory they have to get at least a field goal. Cam Little didn’t miss against Alabama and that is what needs to happen on Saturday. Of course the Hogs need to get touchdowns instead of field goals. That is a no-brainer, but if they can’t punch it into the end zone they need points. They can’t have wasted opportunities on the Mississippi State end of the field. If Jefferson can’t play the opportunities on that end of the field may not be that many so Razorbacks have to make most of them.
The Hogs failed this key as well. On the second possession, Arkansas drove to the Mississippi State 8-yard line. They faced a third-and-one play. Arkansas called a pass on third down that was incomplete. Then on fourth, the Bulldogs stuffed Sanders for no gain. Arkansas did get a 51-yard field goal from Cam Little to get points on its fourth possession of the first half. On its next possession, Hornsby found Haselwood for a 68-yard completion to the Bulldogs 3-yard line. Sanders powered it in on the next play to pull Arkansas within 21-10 with 1:11 remaining in the first half. On Arkansas’ second possession of the third quarter they came up empty again. They had third-and-goal at the Bulldogs 1-yard line. Hornsby, as noted earlier, missed a wide open Landers. He sailed the ball over Landers head giving him no chance to catch it. On the next play, Rashod Dubinion was stuffed for no gain so the Hogs came up empty. The next possession is when Hornsby found Stephens for a 54-yard touchdown. Hornsby was intercepted on Arkansas’ next two possessions. So Arkansas did leave several points on the field.
Avoid Disaster in First Quarter
What I wrote:
Mississippi State has outscored its opponents 52-7 in the first quarter of games this season. With or without Jefferson, the Hogs can’t dig themselves a hole for the second week in a row. They were down 28-0 to Alabama last week before they finally got something going offensively. If Bulldogs get early momentum they will be in control of the game being at home with the cowbells ringing loud and clear.
Arkansas didn’t avoid disaster in the first quarter. Mississippi State took a 14-0 lead on its first two possessions and Arkansas wasted a trip to the red zone coming up with no points. So just like against Alabama, the Hogs dug themselves a hole and never were able to dig out of it.