That’s the word that best sums up not only Saturday’s performance, but the last three weeks, in general, for Arkansas football.
What led up to Saturday’s 40-17 thrashing at the hands of Mississippi State is a combination of a couple of things.
Arkansas has an injury-depleted roster that doesn’t have enough SEC-ready depth yet, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
They have also made a lot of mistakes at pivotal points in games that have been difficult to overcome, both on the field and from the sidelines.
The blame for the early-season struggles can be pointed at anyone you’d like, and you would have a case. However, it all boils down to the fact that Arkansas just hasn’t played good, winning football yet.
Saturday in Starkville was just a culmination of everything that has gone wrong for the Hogs so far this season.
What We Learned
● Starting the Wrong Quarterback
Two weeks ago, against Alabama, Cade Fortin was the first quarterback to enter the game following KJ Jefferson’s exit due to injury.
Sam Pittman doubled down on the decision in his postgame presser by saying that Fortin had been the QB2 all along, despite Malik Hornsby being listed as QB2 on every official depth chart up to that point.
So, it wasn’t surprising to see Fortin get the nod on Saturday when Jefferson still couldn’t play due to injury.
It only took a few offensive series for almost everyone to realize that Hornsby was the much better option at quarterback.
On Hornsby’s first possession of the game, he was able to take a rattle off a 52-yard carry and provide a much-needed spark with the Hogs trailing 14-0 early.
Hornsby also showed off some improvement in his passing game with some impressive deep throws. The highlight of his day came in third quarter when he threw a 54-yard bomb to Bryce Stephens for a touchdown to make it a 27-17.
He deserved to get the start and it’s unfortunate that it took a whole quarter to figure out that he was the better option.
Going forward it should be no question at all that Malik Hornsby is the QB2 behind KJ Jefferson.
● The Defense Still Has Major Issues
It almost feels like fans and media alike are beating a dead horse with complaints and questions about the defensive struggles at this point.
The Arkansas secondary has been decimated by injuries which is a big reason they’ve struggled.
That doesn’t give Barry Odom and his defense a free pass from criticism though.
Arkansas led the country in sacks and has had success with their four-man front and being able to pressure opposing quarterbacks.
However, we never saw the Arkansas defense switch from their rush-three, drop-eight zone look on Saturday.
Coach Pittman explained in his postgame presser that the majority of this was tied to the defense having so many injuries at key positions.
“When [Myles] Slusher didn’t come, and then we lost two more, then it’s hard to have a tremendous confidence in doing a whole lot, to be perfectly honest with you. Assignment-wise,” Pittman said. “We took a slow drumming is what ended up happening.”
While that’s an understandable explanation, it’s still a little frustrating that the coaching staff wouldn’t try something different to get pressure on Will Rogers.
Especially once the game began to get out of hand, and there was nothing left to lose. Rogers had complete confidence in the pocket all day long because he was never touched.
I’m not sure if there’s much hope for drastic improvement from the Arkansas defense until they’re able to get some key players healthy.
Unfortunately, there’s a chance that doesn’t happen at all this season.
● Upcoming Schedule Provides Opportunity
Coming into this season, we all knew the schedule was going to be daunting to navigate. In a week that Arkansas desperately could use a BYE, they’re instead getting BYU in a non-conference road game.
The one bright spot is that a BYE week comes two Saturdays from now, and the most difficult stretch of the season is almost over.
While games against Auburn, LSU and a likely-ranked Ole Miss team aren’t anything to scoff at, there’s time between now and then to right the ship.
After next week’s game at BYU, Arkansas has two full weeks to prepare for a road game against a struggling Auburn team, then they get Liberty at home in a game you should expect to win.
To finish off the season you have a struggling LSU team and formidable Ole Miss team at home in back-to-back weeks before finishing up at Missouri.
The schedule is about to start working in Arkansas’ favor and there will be ample opportunities for the Hogs to get three or more wins and end up in a decent bowl game.
That would help salvage some of the program’s lost momentum from the rough start to the season. At this point, that’s a realistic goal and best-case scenario for this year’s Arkansas team.
As I mentioned earlier, Arkansas is traveling to Provo, UT for a matchup against BYU.
The Cougars are 4-2 and coming off a 28-20 loss to Notre Dame on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. and will air on ESPN.