The Arkansas football team fell 40-17 to No. 23 Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon in front of 57,849 inside Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Mississippi.
Penalties, missed tackles and poor secondary play were on display once again in the loss, the Razorbacks’ third in a row. Saturday’s result drops the Hogs to .500 on the season and 1-3 in conference play.
Injuries did not help matters as redshirt junior starting quarterback KJ Jefferson did not play in the contest. The Razorbacks tried a rotation of redshirt senior Cade Fortin and redshirt sophomore Malik Hornsby to begin the game. Other than a few plays he missed due to injury, Hornsby was the more explosive option, throwing for 234 yards and a touchdown and picking up 114 rushing yards.
“We weren't disappointed in Cade, it's just Malik had brought us a spark throwing and running,” Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman said following the game. “So that was the decision going into that for the game.”
The Bulldogs, known for their passing attack, relied on their running game — which went for a season-high 173 yards — early. Mississippi State rushed six times on its first drive and capped it off with running back Dillon Johnson punching it in from a yard out to put the Bulldogs up 7-0 with 11:15 to play in the first quarter.
Mississippi State relied on its running game again during the second drive of the game before quarterback Will Rogers hit wide receiver Jaden Walley with a 5-yard touchdown pass that just slipped through redshirt junior defensive back Malik Chavis’ hands.
“We knew they ran so hard, you know, but they ran over us,” Pittman said. “We couldn’t get him on the ground. That’s been a little bit of a problem this year, or a lot of a problem this year, and we just have to continue to work it.”
The Razorback offense was in disarray without Jefferson for most of the first half, finding a quick spark with the insertion of redshirt sophomore quarterback Malik Hornsby, who busted loose for a 52-yard rush to the Mississippi State 28-yard line.
A play later, Hornsby left the game after taking a hit on a rush up the middle. That drive ended with a turnover on downs inside the Bulldogs’ 10-yard line.
The Bulldogs took a 21-0 lead with 9:03 to play in the half when Rogers found wideout Austin Williams for a 10-yard touchdown pass.
The Hogs finally got on the board when sophomore kicker Cam Little nailed a 51-yard field goal to cut the Bulldog lead to 21-3 with 5:56 to play in the first half.
After stopping the Bulldogs on fourth down, the Razorback offense again got a boost from Hornsby when he found sophomore wideout Jadon Haselwood for a 68-yard gain. Catching up to the Mississippi State 3-yard line, sophomore running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders found paydirt, cutting the Bulldog lead to 21-10 with just over a minute to play in the first half on the next play.
Any semblance of momentum the Razorbacks had going into halftime quickly disappeared as the first offensive series went three-and-out.
Rogers then launched a 33-yard touchdown pass to wideout Caleb Ducking to extend the Bulldog lead to 27-10.
The Hogs then drove the length of field only to falter on fourth-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line. It was the second Arkansas drive of the afternoon inside the red zone that came away with zero points.
“I don’t know a man or woman in here that would not go for it on fourth-and-1 down three scores on the 1-yard line,” Pittman said. “Obviously I was wrong, and it didn’t work.”
After a Bulldog punt, Hornsby found redshirt freshman wideout Bryce Stephens with a 54-yard bomb to cut the State lead to 27-17 with 3:33 to play in the third quarter. The touchdown reception was the first of Stephens’ Razorback career, and Hornsby’s first through the air.
The Bulldogs responded quickly, capping off a seven-play, 75-yard drive with Johnson’s 30-yard touchdown run. Mississippi State’s lead stretched to 34-17 with just under a minute to play in the third quarter.
Following a Hornsby interception, the Bulldogs went 70 yards on six plays with a 2-yard Jo’quavious Marks touchdown run capping off a drive aided greatly by three Arkansas penalties. The score all but ended the game, as Mississippi State went up 40-17 with 10:28 to play.
The Razorbacks had a few promising drives throughout the rest of the game, but they could not make plays when it counted.
“It’s a horrible feeling losing three games in a row,” redshirt senior right tackle Dalton Wagner said. “It’s hard to get out of a rut like that, but we understand where the mistakes are coming from. Now it’s time to fix it.”
The Razorbacks will travel to Provo, Utah, next Saturday to take on No. 16 BYU at 2:30 p.m. The contest will air on either ABC or ESPN and will stream live on the ESPN app.
“There’s a difference in losing and being a loser,” Pittman said. “We lost, but we’re not a group of a bunch of losers.”