STARKVILLE — A week of drama and coachspeak surrounding the status of Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson finally cleared up Saturday when Jefferson remained on the sideline for the Razorbacks’ first offensive series.
Jefferson, a native of Sardis, was playing at a high level this season, and when you subtract QB1 — anybody’s QB1 — you change the game dramatically.
But Jefferson’s absence is not why No. 23 Mississippi State pounded 40-17 a team that was ranked No. 10 just three weeks ago.
It was the third-straight loss for the Razorbacks, but one of those was against Alabama, which happens to a lot of folks. It was in that game in Fayetteville that Jefferson was hit in the head and sent into concussion protocol.
Razorback backups Cade Fortin and Malik Hornsby were clear underdogs against the aggressive defense they faced at Davis Wade Stadium.
Eventually, coach Sam Pittman settled on Hornsby, who hit some big plays and kept things from getting out of hand earlier.
In a game that had a blowout feel already, Hornsby kept the Hogs in the fight. They were just 10 points back after he threw a 54-yard touchdown pass in the final minutes of the third quarter.
The Arkansas defense, though, did little to help their quarterbacks.
For stretches of play MSU was in complete control, running, passing and scoring points.
The offensive line, with Nick Jones making his second start at left tackle, protected Will Rogers against a Razorbacks defense that ranks second in the nation in sacks with 4.2 per game.
The Razorbacks didn’t often try to pressure Rogers.
So Rogers stood in the pocket patiently waiting for routes to develop and receivers to come open.
A couple of times he slid left or right to extend plays.
Arkansas finished with no sacks and just one pressure.
It was a hot offense at times, not a perfect one throughout the game, but for stretches the Bulldogs were very, very good.
There were occasional costly penalties or catches that weren’t made.
Through the down time, the Bulldogs still managed to move the needle on the consistency meter enough to please Mike Leach. Consistency has been a talking point for the Bulldogs coach.
“We did have some consistency. We stubbed our toe a few times and didn’t finish drives, but I do think the more consistent team won this game,” Leach said.
It’s worth noting that State’s 568 total yards came against a defense prone to give up yards. The Razorbacks began the day at No. 112 in total defense.
Indeed, there are things to work on for Mississippi State, but at the season’s midway point, that seems to be the case for most teams in the Southeastern Conference.
Bouncing back from the loss at LSU, the Bulldogs have looked very good in three home games, the last two big SEC wins.
If the Bulldogs can pack up some of this home energy and execute at Kentucky this week, maybe they can grab a nice conference road win.
For now, they’re navigating the October minefield.
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