HOGS subdued in Starkville
STARKVILLE, Miss. — The Arkansas Razorbacks, playing with quarterback KJ Jefferson on the sidelines, found themselves in a 21-point hole less than 20 minutes into Saturday’s game against Mississippi State, and they never recovered at Davis Wade Stadium.
Mississippi State (5-1, 2-1 SEC) rolled to a 40-17 win in front of 57,849 cowbell-ringing fans, handing Arkansas (3-3, 0-3 SEC) its third consecutive loss after the Hogs started the season 3-0 and moved to No. 10 in the Associated Press poll.
Up next is a nonconference matchup at 2:30 p.m. with the BYU Cougars in Provo, Utah.
Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said getting the Razorbacks prepared for next week, and the rest of the season, is his top priority.
“There’s a difference between losing and being losers,” Pittman said. “We lost but we’re not a bunch of losers because we can come back from this. Our goal at the beginning of the year was to make it to a bowl game and we haven’t lost that opportunity yet. I think we’ll be just fine.”
Even without Jefferson, who had started 18 consecutive games, the Razorbacks gained 483 yards.
But Arkansas’ defense, which came into the game leading the SEC with 21 sacks, did not record a sack nor did it have a tackle for loss while yielding 568 yards.
Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers (31-48 passing, 395 yards, 3 TDs) picked the Razorbacks apart with the Razorbacks dropping 8 men into coverage, and the rushing attack totaled 173 yards on 37 carries.
Dillon Johnson (17-100 rushing, 2 TDs; 2-49 receiving) and Jo’quavious Marks (16-52 rushing, 1 TD; 11-80 receiving) accounted for 281 yards in Coach Mike Leach’s pass-oriented attack.
“Obviously, they outplayed us and were the most physical team today,” Pittman said. “Will Rogers is a really good quarterback and managed the game for them well. Give them credit, coach Leach did a great job with them.”
Jefferson, who left last week’s loss to Alabama after getting hit in the head, went through pregame warmups, but Pittman said afterward he had decided on Thursday that Jefferson would not play.
“It just wasn’t worth it to me,” Pittman said. “I didn’t want to put him out there.”
South Florida transfer Cade Fortin (2-6 passing, 8 yards, 1 sack) got the start over Malik Hornsby, but it was Hornsby (8-17 passing, 234 yards, 1 TD, 2 interceptions; 8-114 rushing) who took over after the first two possessions.
“He might be the fastest quarterback in the conference,” Leach said.
Pittman, who said Fortin got the start because he won the job in practice, said Hornsby did a good job.
“I thought he was a little more accurate today than he has been in practice,” Pittman said. “The short ones still gave us a little bit of trouble, but I thought for the first time that he played a tremendous amount of ball, I thought he did a really, really nice job.”
Arkansas trailed 21-0 after a 10-yard pass from Rogers to Austin Williams with 9:03 to play in the first half.
The Razorbacks, who had possessed the ball for less than 10 minutes in the first half, trailed 21-10 at halftime after a 51-yard field goal by Cam Little and a 3-yard run by Rocket Sanders (20-86 rushing, 1 TD; 4-49 receiving).
Arkansas was within 27-17 after a 54-yard pass from Hornsby to Bryce Stephens at the 3:33 mark of the third quarter.
The Razorbacks would get no closer.
“The team mindset right now is we’re sick of it,” offensive lineman Dalton Wagner said. “It’s a horrible feeling losing three games in a row, and it’s hard to recover from that. We know where the fixes need to come from and now it’s on us to look within ourselves to figure out how we fix them.”
The Bulldogs would seal the deal in the fourth quarter with a two-yard touchdown run from Jo’quavious Marks and back-to-back interceptions thrown by Hornsby, both coming on fourth-down plays deep in Mississippi State territory.
“I was really proud of Malik today,” linebacker Bumper Pool said. “He was thrown into a backup role today and went out there and played really well. He ran the ball really well and made some big throws.”
Sanders led the Razorbacks in rushing, with Rashod Dubinion (7 carries, 28 yards) and AJ Green (6 rushes, 14 yards) also contributing.
Wide Receiver Jadon Haselwood led Arkansas with 113 receiving yards on 3 receptions.
Arkansas failed to convert on fourth down on three occasions, including a failed attempt from the Mississippi State 1 when trailing 27-10 in the third quarter.
“We were down three scores, and I don’t know a man or woman that would have not gone for it at that time,” Pittman said. “Obviously I was wrong, and it didn’t work.”
Linebackers Drew Sanders (16 tackles, 1 PBU) and Bumper Pool (14 tackles) were Arkansas’ leading tacklers. Defensive backs Khari Johnson (9 tackles) and Hudson Clark (8 tackles) were also heavily involved.
Pool became the Razorbacks all-time leading tackler, surpassing Tony Bua, who set the record in 2003.
“I wish we had won because that would have been a great celebration for him [Pool],” Pittman said. “I’m so proud of him. I know it’s a huge deal and I know it’s a huge deal to him.”