Mississippi State (4-5, 2-4) launched a ground assault on the Razorbacks’ (2-7, 0-6) defense Saturday in Fayetteville as they rushed for 460 yards and defeated Arkansas 54-24.
A shoddy Arkansas rushing defense paired with a record-breaking game from a pair of Bulldog backs led to an offensive eruption from Mississippi State. Arkansas’ ground game paled in comparison to that of the Bulldogs, who more than doubled the Razorbacks’ 184 rushing yards.
Bulldogs’ running back Kylin Hill, who leads the SEC in rushing yards, tallied 234 yards on the ground and three touchdowns while averaging a little over 11 yards a carry. Hill matched his season total for touchdowns in the game alone. He now has 793 rushing yards this season, which is 87 more yards than Arkansas running back Rakeem Boyd, a junior, who is ranked third in the SEC in rushing.
Boyd ran for 114 yards and a touchdown, including a 52-yard touchdown run for the Razorbacks’ first touchdown of the game in the second quarter. The Bulldogs’ second-string running back Nick Gibson ran for more yards than Boyd, tallying 129 yards and a touchdown, and had almost 11 yards a carry.
“We knew they were a run-first football team,” Arkansas head coach Chad Morris said. “They led the league in rushing. It was evident that we could not stop the run today.”
Mississippi State compiled 640 total yards, more than twice as many as Arkansas. They also totalled 27 first downs, which is more points than Arkansas had.
Arkansas threw for only 101 yards, completing only nine of their 24 pass attempts. No Arkansas pass-catcher had more than 32 receiving yards.
Quarterback Ben Hicks, a junior, started under center and converted four of 13 passes for 44 yards and threw an interception, which Mississippi State returned for a touchdown. The pick-six, which came with just under two minutes left in the first half, was his last pass attempt of the day.
“I do think that, as I’ve said before, the inconsistencies at the quarterback position have not benefited us,” Morris said.
Redshirt quarterback John Stephen Jones, a freshman, and true freshman quarterback K.J. Jefferson each received snaps after Hicks departed. Jones completed four of nine passes for 25 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown pass to receiver Mike Woods, a sophomore, on a fourth down.
Jefferson took his first snap as a Razorback early in the fourth quarter as the fans at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium rose from the ashes and erupted with joy. The noise only elevated as Jefferson drove 75 yards down the field in four plays and scored in under two minutes.
Jefferson, a Mississippi native, ran 21 yards for a first down on his first play from scrimmage against the team that formerly recruited him. After a handoff to Boyd, he floated a 32-yard pass to receiver Treylon Burks, a freshman, and then took it in the endzone himself on a five-yard keeper.
“I think that both John Stephen and K.J. came in and gave us a spark,” Morris said. “I was proud of both of those guys.”
Following Jefferson’s performance, Morris did not shut down the idea of starting him next week.
“We’ll get in tomorrow and decide that,” Morris said. “But he’s gotten substantial reps over the last few weeks [with the first team].”
Jefferson’s 6’3, 228 pound frame gives him a slight edge in size over the other quarterbacks but is more mobile than Hicks and Starkel.
“He’s a hell of a runner,” Boyd said. “He can throw the ball too. You all just haven’t seen it. I bet you all will see it next week.”
Arkansas was without last season’s leader in receiving touchdowns: tight end Cheyenne O’Grady, a senior, who was suspended for the game. Arkansas head coach Chad Morris declined to give the reason for his suspension.
Arkansas will take on Western Kentucky at home next Saturday at 11 a.m. The senior day game will be broadcasted on the SEC Network.