Arkansas leaves offense on road, falls at home 7-3

By Otis Kirk
on 2023-10-21 14:49 PM

FAYETTEVILLE — Much had been made about Arkansas getting to play an SEC game at home after four straight weeks on the road, but the end result was the same as Mississippi State took a 7-3 win to spoil the Hogs’ homecoming in front of 71,505 fans.

The loss is the sixth in a row for Arkansas. The Razorbacks finished with just 200 yards of total offense. Quarterback KJ Jefferson was 19-of-31 passing for 97 yards and an interception. He also rushed 16 times for 38 yards. After the game, Sam PIttman praised the defense and also talked about the offense.

“We’ve got a lot of decisions to make,” Pittman said. “We owe it to our team. We owe it to the fans. We’ll figure that part of it out. My biggest thing to be honest with you… The defense has continued to improve and my biggest concern is about the kids and the entire team. We asked them at half we said ‘Hey, if you’ll hold them… If you’ll shut them out, I think we’ll win.’ I thought we could get down there and score enough points to win. We just weren’t able to do it. Defense is improving. We have a lot of talent on offense. We ought to be playing better than what we are. That’s me. I’ve got to figure that out.”

Arkansas has struggled on offense all season with a few exceptions. Pittman was asked if he would consider an in-season change?

“Oh, I don’t really want to answer that,” Pittman said.

Pittman will now have two weeks to try and figure out the offense with a bye week before heading to Florida.

“Not very good,” Pittman said. “We’ve got good kids. We’ve got guys that try hard and all that kind of stuff. We just … we’re not very good right now. We’ve got a lot of figuring out to do between now and Florida. A lot.”

In addition to the inconsistent play calling the offensive line has struggled. Same issues today that allowed Jefferson to get sacked four times or something new?

“No, I don’t think it’s anything new,” Pittman said. “(Andrew) Chamblee got his back hurt late in the second quarter. Dev (Manuel) came in … No. Movement has given us problems all year and you saw it again today. I felt we’d have success against this team because we knew where the movement was coming from. I don’t think we got surprised with the movement. I think we got physically manhandled on some of the movement.”

No one envisioned four years ago when you became head coach the offensive line would struggle like this. How did it get to this point?

“I really don’t know how it got to today,” Pittman said. “Let’s keep it to that — today. When kids play extremely hard, they believe in you, you know what I mean? When you struggle, a lot of times when it’s not going your way, you’ve got to have something that can bring a spark to them. We just haven’t found that. You’re talking about pass protection, screens, running the football — even though I think we did hand it off and run it a little better today that what we had. When you get a four-yard run, I’m not positive that’s a celebration, but it has become that way. So you’re asking me how that’s become that way, I really… I don’t not want to answer it, but I don’t know that I have the perfect answer for it either.”

The only reason Arkansas was in the game at the end of the play of safety Alfahiym Walcott, a transfer from Baylor, linebacker Chris “Pooh” Paul and others on defense. Walcott finished with five tackles, including one solo, and an interception. Walcott also had what appeared to be a scoop and score late in the game. An errant snap got away from quarterback Mike Wright and Walcott picked up the football and raced to the end zone. But a wide receiver was guilty of a false start wiping out the play. The Bulldogs then facing a fourth-and-6 play opted to punt.

“They called it dead immediately because the wide receiver who was coming in motion never got set,” Pittjman said. “So right at the snap, it was a dead ball.”

Walcott intercepted a Wright pass on the second play from scrimmage. The Hogs took over at the Mississippi State 35. On first down. Rashod Dubinion rushed for four yards. On second down, Jefferson hit Ty Washington for a 19-yard gain to the 12. Two running plays set the Hogs up with a third-and-4 play at the 6-yard line. Jefferson threw a low pass to Washington, who was open, but couldn’t come up with the ball. The Hogs settled for a 24-yard field goal by Cam Little for a 3-0 lead with 12:30 remaining in the opening quarter.

The only touchdown of the game was a 2-yard run by Jo’Quavious Marks with 13:03 remaining in the second quarter. Kyle Ferrie added the PAT. Mississippi State’s drive covered nine plays, 69 yards and took 4:32 off the clock.

Pittman said during the week this was a must win game. Arkansas obviously didn’t win it. Any fear of players letting go of the rope?

“I think we’ll be okay as long as we don’t separate in the locker room,” Pittman said. “I think we’ll be okay. We still have an opportunity to get bowl eligible, but we’re obviously going to have to play a lot better to do that. But we’ve got good kids on the team and I think they’ll stay together. I told them it’s okay to be angry. I mean, it is. It’s okay to be upset. It’s okay to (be) all these things. But what you can’t do is let it separate the team.”

Pittman admitted some indecisiveness on his part late in the third quarter. Arkansas faced a fourth-and-3 play at the Bulldogs 34. After some deliberation, he sent Little out to try a 52-yard field goal. But a delay of game pushed the ball back to the 3yard9 and Pittman opted to punt. Max Fletcher punted to the 3-yard line.

“I had decided… It was 4th-and-4, I think, maybe 4th-and-3 right in Cam’s range,” Pittman said. “I didn’t know what to do to be perfectly honest with you. So, I was probably eight seconds in on the 40-second clock. I decided to kick a field goal, and we didn’t get it off in time. That’s the truth. I did not want to call a timeout at that point because I wasn’t even sure I wanted to kick a field goal to be perfectly honest with you.

“We kicked it down to the two and the fans got really involved in it. To be honest with you, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t make the decision fast enough. Once I got it in there, I thought we had plenty of time to kick it, but at that point I wasn’t going to burn a timeout because my feeling was I wasn’t for sure I was making the right decision anyway.”

Wright was playing for the injured Will Rogers. He was 8-of-12 for 85 yards, one touchdown an an interception. The Bulldogs finished with 205 yards of total offense including 120 on the ground.

Arkansas (2-6, 0-5) will have a bye week before heading to Florida. Mississippi State (4-3, 1-3) will be at Auburn next Saturday.

(Last updated: 2023-10-21 14:49 PM)