FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas gave a great effort on a cold day in Razorback Stadium, but in the end they came up just short losing to No. 7 LSU 13-10 in front of 73,750 fans.
Arkansas played without its starting quarterback KJ Jefferson and right tackle Dalton Wagner. Malik Hornsby started at quarterback, but then was replaced by Cade Fortin. The move paid off considering on Fortin’s second series he took the team 94 yards in 10 plays ending with a 40-yard touchdown pass to Matt Landers to pull within three points with 13:17 remaining in the game. Sam Pittman talked about when he decided to go with Fortin.
“Obviously, with a quarterback, there’s a lot of things that go into that,” Pittman said. “Rushing the football and trying to take a little pressure off him, getting the ball out of his hand faster and things of that nature. You know, making a guy miss to have a short play turn into a … There wasn’t a whole lot of help out there. I don’t think I decided to make the change to Fortin until I did. Obviously, I kept thinking we might just spit a big play or something of that nature, but it wasn’t happening. So, we decided to go there. Again, we still didn’t protect him well either. It’s hard to do. We have to play better.”
Fortin finished the day 8 of 13 for 92 yards and a touchdown. On the ground, Fortin had five carries for 17 yards. By comparison, Hornsby was 4 of 9 passing for 24 yards while rushing 18 times for 37 yards.
While the offense struggled for most part regardless of who was at quarterback, the defense was outstanding. Arkansas held LSU to 284 yards of total offense, forced two turnovers and had seven sacks.
“I want to give LSU credit,” Pittman said. “I think they made enough plays to win. Certainly, a defensive ballgame and things of that nature, but they had the one touchdown drive and made plays when needed. I thought our defense played lights out, by far the best game we’ve played all year. We covered well, pressured the quarterback well and for the second week in a row we couldn’t get anything going offensively.
“I was proud of when Fortin came in and was able to give us a little bit of a spark. But in all honesty, we couldn’t block. We didn’t make tackles. We couldn’t block for the run. We couldn’t protect him, and we didn’t break any tackles until late in the game. I was really proud of how hard they proud, and I was really proud of the defensive game plan and how the defense played.”
As far as Jefferson not playing, Pittman explained the decision of how it was decided and when they knew the redshirt junior wouldn’t play.
“He felt better early in the week,” Pittman said. “Threw a few balls on Monday. Tuesday none. Wednesday felt better. I just asked him to have a plan because he was in no-man’s land. He’s like out in a desert and nowhere to go. It hurt, it was sore and the bottom line is on Thursday morning … Excuse me, yeah, Thursday morning I talked to him… Or Thursday afternoon, excuse me. That was it.
“He hadn’t practiced in two weeks much, and we decided the best thing for him would be to rest. Hopefully, he’ll be ready by Monday and he’ll be ready for Ole Miss. It was either that and do the same thing and each week have the same result with a guy who can’t practice, and we’re trying to get him healed up. We told the team yesterday morning this was Hornsby’s game. So, that’s what happened.”
The Razorbacks jumped out to a 3-0 lead on a 28-yard field goal from Cam Little with 4:48 remaining in the opening quarter. The drive was a 10-play, 46-yard one that covered three minutes and 24 seconds.
The defense then came up big for the Hogs. On LSU’s first drive Latavious Brini picked off a Jayden Daniels pass to give the Hogs the ball at their own 43. But the offense couldn’t get a first down and had to punt.
Then with 4:09 remaining in the first quarter, Arkansas forced a fumble giving the offense possession at the LSU 10. Jordan Domineck forced the fumble and Brini recovered. AJ Green picked up seven yards on first down to the LSU 3-yard line. However, the offense couldn’t cover the final three yards and Pittman opted to go for a touchdown instead of the field goal. The Hogs once again came up empty following a turnover.
“I thought points were going to be hard to come by,” Pittman said. “We didn’t have KJ and things of that nature down there. Got the turnover on the 10. Got about eight yards. I thought we were going to score actually on the first run. Ran a little zone to the left. Two more plays of minus yardage.
“We got them down here. Let’s score a touchdown because I thought we were going to have a struggle on offense. We already had them down there. We could go up 10-0, and we didn’t make it. I thought the worst thing, you know, we’ve got them pinned back here. I know you’re giving up three points at that point but I just thought the risk to reward was better going for the touchdown there.”
LSU took advantage of a Hornsby fumble at the Arkansas 37. Linebacker Harold Perkins Jr. forced the fumble and B.J. Ojulari recovered. The Hogs defense did force the Tigers to settle for a 38-yard field goal from Damian Ramos to tie the game at 3 with 9:28 remaining in the opening half.
Ramos added a 29-yard field goal with 1:51 still remaining in the first half to allow LSU to take a 6-3 lead into halftime.
LSU took a 13-3 lead in the third quarter when Josh Williams powered in from the 1-yard line. The drive came after Arkansas had opted to go for a fourth-and-two play from the LSU 48. On fourth down, Hornsby slipped down back at his own 40 which was his last play of the game. LSU scored the touchdown on five plays with the big one being a 25-yard pass from Daniels to Kayshon Boutte to the Arkansas 1.
Arkansas finished the game with 249 yards of total offense. They passed for 116 yards and rushed for 133. Rocket Sanders was held to 46 yards on 12 carries. Landers had two catches for 69 yards and the lone Arkansas touchdown.
On defense Drew Sanders led the way with 12 tackles while Bumper Pool added 10. Safety Hudson Clark had nine tackles. Linebacker Pooh Paul had two sacks. Sanders, Eric Gregory, Terry Hampton and Jashaud Stewart each had one sack. Zach Williams and Landon Jackson each had 0.5 sack. Pittman talked about how the Hogs got seven sacks.
“Had a really good game plan going in about location,” Pittman said. “I don’t want to say that because we’ll probably do that again next year, but had a really good game plan going in. Our kids tackled really well. This is the best by far our best coverage night, by far and they played inspired football. Offensively we just couldn’t maintain anything, couldn’t block them, basically.”
Sanders also talked about the seven sacks and attitude of the team.
“Yeah, I mean, today, I think just overall in the locker room we had a lot more energy, and we came out and we came out firing,” Sanders said. “As you see, we got after the quarterback. That was our game plan, and we executed.”
Arkansas (5-5, 2-4) will host Ole Miss on Saturday in a night game. The Hogs then finish up the regular season at Missouri on Nov. 25. The Hogs need one more win to become bowl eligible. The Liberty Bowl was present on Saturday to scout the Razorbacks.