The final result was the same as last week, but Arkansas looked like a much better team in their 13-10 loss to No. 7 LSU. The difference in the game was that Arkansas didn’t have KJ Jefferson, and the offense sputtered again with Malik Hornsby (and eventually Cade Fortin) under center.
At this point in the season, it’s hard to know what you’re going to get with this Arkansas team. Against BYU and Auburn, the offense looked like one of the best in the country while the defense struggled immensely. The last two weeks, the defense has looked like world-beaters and the offense can’t do anything right.
If this team has any hope at all to get to six wins and go bowling this season, the offense and defense have to get on the same page for these last two games.
What We Learned
• Defense’s Best Game of the Season
The Arkansas defense has been atrocious for the majority of this season. They were ranked 129th in the country in pass defense, 106th in total defense and 91st in points allowed. The only silver lining is that they’ve been able to rack up sacks, ranking fourth in the country in that category.
You’re forgiven if you predicted that LSU’s Jayden Daniels would have a field day on the Arkansas defense because that didn’t happen. Barry Odom and his defense stepped up and played brilliantly.
They finished the day with seven sacks, eight tackles for loss, a fumble and interception. The Hogs also only allowed 13 points and 284 yards of total offense.
Without a doubt, this was the best game of the season by this defense. Major props to Barry Odom for getting his guys ready to play and put the team in a position to win.
• Back-Up QB Situation is Bad
Contrary to the defense’s performance, the offense had another bad outing with KJ Jefferson out due to injury. Malik Hornsby got the starting nod and struggled for over three quarters before Cade Fortin took over.
If it wasn’t a glaring issue before, Harold Perkins made it crystal clear to everyone that Arkansas has a big problem at backup quarterback right now.
Malik Hornsby’s speed is elite and he’s an exceptional athlete, but it’s obvious he hasn’t developed certain tools to be a successful quarterback in the SEC yet. He never showed the patience and poise that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from KJ Jefferson. Instead, it looked like his first instinct was to scramble on every single play.
It’s been nearly two seasons of watching Hornsby as the backupto Jefferson, and we’ve yet to see anything that shows he can be the quarterback of the future.
Cade Fortin came in and was able to throw a couple of nice passes, including a touchdown, but he’s a junior grad transfer on his third school. That doesn’t exactly inspire fans to be excited about a future without KJ Jefferson.
Sam Pittman and his staff need to take a long, hard look at the quarterback room this offseason and find some answers beyond KJ Jefferson.
• Pittman’s Head Coaching Inexperience Shows
There hasn’t been a ton to complain about during Sam Pittman’s tenure at Arkansas.
However, his head coaching inexperience is starting to show more than it did last season.
The handling of the backup quarterback debacle is a good example of this. Hornsby hasn’t always had the full support of his coaching staff, and it shows in his lack of development and confidence.
Another example is his questionable decision to go for it on fourth and goal when Arkansas was up 3-0 early in the firstquarter. Pittman said after the game that he thought points would “be hard to come by” hence the call to try to get six instead of the easy three.
If points are hard to come by, you take them when you can get them. I’m all for being aggressive, but that three points was the difference in the game on the scoreboard.
Later in the game, he decided to go for it on fourth down again near midfield instead of punting and playing for field position. Again, I’m all for being aggressive, but it needs to happen at the right time and in the right situation.
Pittman’s situational awareness over the course of a game has been pretty good (i.e., fake field goal against Alabama in 2021), but there are still a lot of times where he shows his inexperience, and it comes back to cost the team points or field position.
Harold Perkins was having a career day and there wasn’t an adjustment to give him a different look or throw a double team his way. Eventually, it cost the Hogs a shot at the win after he forced a fumble late in the fourth quarter.
Sam Pittman has done a phenomenal job with the program so far, but he’s not immune from making mistakes or bad calls. I think after a few more seasons, we’ll see him be a lot better in these situations.
Arkansas welcomes another ranked SEC opponent to Fayetteville when the No. 14 Ole Miss Rebels come to town on Saturday.
Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and can be seen on SEC Network.