FAYETTEVILLE — Aside from the final result, one of the biggest story lines coming out of the Alabama game surrounded Arkansas’ quarterback situation.
Starter KJ Jefferson went down with an injury late in the 49-26 loss and the Razorbacks went with Cade Fortin after him rather than presumed backup Malik Hornsby.
The decision has been discussed ad nauseam by fans and thoroughly reported by Best of Arkansas Sports, but head coach Sam Pittman was blunt in his comments immediately after the game, saying only that Fortin had been the No. 2 quarterback “for a while.”
Speaking to the media a couple days later in his weekly Monday press conference, the third-year coach opened up a little more, revealing that the decision was also dictated by the situation and that he had met with Hornsby that morning.
“He’s been in games, we were behind,” Pittman said. “There’s a lot more that goes into it more than just who we put into the game. Malik is handling it fine. I visited with him today, and he’s fine. He’ll be fine.”
There were already signs that Hornsby was not happy, such as his poor body language on the sideline while Fortin was in the game, but then he deleted all references to Arkansas from his social media accounts.
That further fueling speculation about a potential transfer, but he eventually came out and said he wasn’t leaving and asked for people to “stop with the false information,” via a tweet Sunday afternoon.
Now listed as the third-teamer on the UA’s official depth chart, which can be found below, Hornsby will remain at quarterback. His usage at wide receiver has completely fallen off. After getting 22 total snaps in the first two games, he played just four combined in the Missouri State and Texas A&M games, and then none against Alabama.
“He’s a quarterback,” Pittman said. “I mean, he’s a quarterback as well. Certainly the plan for him to play wide receiver has not been even what I thought it would be. But the plan is for him to play quarterback.”
Quarterback Situation – Arkansas vs Mississippi State
All focus now shifts to whether or not KJ Jefferson will be available to play Saturday at Mississippi State. Pittman never mentioned the word “concussion,” but did say he got hit in the head in his postgame press conference.
On Monday, he labeled his status as “wait-and-see.”
“He has some mild symptoms,” Pittman said. “Those are things that our doctors look at. Each kid is a little bit different with how they react. We’ve had guys back within 3-4 days. We’ve had guys out for 27 days. He’s kind of a wait-and-see to be honest with you.”
When pressed on whether or not he was in concussion protocol, Pittman responded, “I didn’t say that,” and then asked for more questions. He later added that typically, players need to participate in some way at practice by Wednesday in order to be cleared to play on Saturday.
If Jefferson is unavailable to play, it sounds like Fortin — who previously started games while at North Carolina and South Florida and is now a walk-on transfer for the Razorbacks — would get the nod.
Pittman acknowledged that his two backup options are different, saying he considers Fortin more of a passer and Hornsby more of a runner, but he said he thinks each of them can do both.
“We’re very confident with (Fortin) in practice,” Pittman said. “He’s done really well in the two-minute situations. He’s a good quarterback and he has experience. We also believe in Malik, so if anything happened there, we still think we have two really good quarterbacks.”
Arkansas Football’s Weekly Press Conference
Here are several other updates from the third-year coach’s weekly Monday press conference, in which he previewed the Arkansas vs Mississippi State matchup, gave some injury updates, took a final look back at the Alabama loss and more…
- On the upcoming game against Mississippi State: We’re very excited to go to Starkville. Coach Leach has his team playing really well. As good of a special teams unit I’ve seen this year. Obviously Will Rogers is a problem, a really good quarterback. They have a lot of talented receivers. Defensively, they blitz a lot and it seems to be working for them. They play extremely hard. There’s a reason they’re ranked in the top 25.
- On how to improve defensively: We’ve got to get some guys back. We’ve been beat up pretty much all year. We just have to continue to work on it. Man coverage has been a problem for us, especially if we don’t get to the quarterback. We just have to be in position better. Certainly the explosive plays, we’ve got to limit them. We have to keep them in front of us and have a pass breakup or get a guy on the ground. Our tackling and secondary woes have to improve.
- On his memories from the win at Mississippi State in 2020: I remember finding out we hadn’t won an SEC game in a long time after the game. Everybody was so excited. There weren’t hardly anyone there because of covid. I remember the excitement of the locker room. We played a good game. They scored 44 against LSU the week before. It was certainly a good feeling.
- On the defensive play vs. Mississippi State: We need to be multiple, but certainly we need to keep people in front of us and get them on the ground.
- On how Mississippi State forced four turnovers and beat Texas A&M last week: That would be a big deal in the game. A&M goes down to the 5 and fumbles. Kick a FG and it goes back for a touchdown. Their starting quarterback got hurt. A lot of things happened. Mississippi State made them happen.
- On Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers: He’s on Year 3 of playing. You can see it. The thing is, you really have to disguise in the secondary because he knows exactly what you’re doing. He can exploit you. He’s really good. (on Rogers)
- On wide receiver Ketron Jackson Jr.: Ketron is one of the most improved guys on the team. He’s always been a good player, but he seems to be coming in his own. He’s always been an effort guy. I think he’s one of the most improved guys. He’s playing with confidence now.
- On Mississippi State’s defense: You better win first down because they’re going to come at you, now. It’s one of the most moving, blitzing defenses I’ve seen in a while. And it works. Any time you play a team like that, you need some explosive plays.
- On the health of DB Myles Slusher and WR Warren Thompson: I think Slusher is a little more beat up, a little worse than Thompson. We’ll see what Thompson can do at practice today. Slusher is more of a wait-and-see, we’ll know more Wednesday.
- On running back Rashod Dubinion: I think he’s growing and getting better and better. He’s a fine running back and we trust him. We put him back in the game after the fumble. So we’re going to try to let him carry it even more this week.
- On piping in cowbell noise at practice this week: That’s probably the plan. We’re only going to do it in team settings.
- On his relationship with Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach: He’s a great guy. I knew him a little bit when our staff got fired at Oklahoma and he came to Oklahoma as an assistant. Met him there briefly. Just a really quality dude. Obviously a great coach and wonderful offensive mind. I really like him and respect him. He’s been good to me in meetings.
- On Mississippi State’s offense: The thing they’re doing a little more this year than I’ve seen in the past is turning around and handing it off and having success running it.
Watch Sam Pittman’s full interview here:
Arkansas Football – Monday Practice Observations
The media was asked not to report on KJ Jefferson’s availability – or any other injury news – during the 15-20 minutes of Monday’s practice open to reporters as a condition of maintaining viewing portions of practice. We were told that doing so would lead to the complete closing of future practices.
Arkansas Football Injury Report
Here’s the latest on various Arkansas football players dealing with injuries…
- QB KJ Jefferson (head): Pittman never said “concussion” when discussing Jefferson’s injury… In a “wait-and-see” mode for his availability against Mississippi State
- WR Warren Thompson (undisclosed): Hopeful he’ll be able to participate in practice this week… Dressed out, but didn’t play against Alabama
- DB Myles Slusher (calf): Worse off than Thompson, per Pittman, who said his “calf’s jacked up a little bit”… Started for the second straight week, but didn’t play much because of the calf injury Pittman revealed after the game
- DE Jashaud Stewart (undisclosed): Hopeful he’ll be able to play this week… Plan to participate in individual drills Monday and see how it goes… Dressed out and went through pregame warmups before the Alabama game, but did not play for the third straight week
- WR Isaiah Sategna (ankle): Didn’t play, but dressed out and went through pregame warmups before the Alabama game, appears to be back
- DT Taurean Carter (knee): Expected to be out for a while
- CB LaDarrius Bishop (knee): Out for the year
- S Jalen Catalon (shoulder): Out for the year
Arkansas Football Depth Chart
The following depth chart was released to the media by the UA in its weekly game notes…
(NOTE: It’s important to remember that this depth chart is essentially worthless, as has been proved time and time again.)
|QB||KJ Jefferson||Cade Fortin||Malik Hornsby|
|RB||Rocket Sanders||AJ Green|
|TE||Trey Knox||Nathan Bax||Hudson Henry|
|WR||Warren Thompson||Jaedon Wilson|
|WR||Jadon Haselwood||Bryce Stephens||Isaiah Sategna|
|WR||Matt Landers||Ketron Jackson Jr.||Sam Mbake|
|LT||Luke Jones||Andrew Chamblee|
|LG||Brady Latham||Jalen St. John|
|C||Ricky Stromberg||Patrick Kutas|
|RG||Beaux Limmer||E’Marion Harris|
|RT||Dalton Wagner||Ty’Kieast Crawford|
- The most notable change is that Fortin is listed as the second-team quarterback, ahead of Hornsby. According to Pittman after the Alabama game, that has been the case for several weeks, but is just now reflected on the depth chart.
- The other change is that freshman Quincey McAdoo is no longer listed as a third-team wide receiver. He was spotted with a cast on his right wrist/arm at Saturday’s game.
- It’s also worth noting that Warren Thompson is listed as a starting wide receiver, despite missing last week’s game with an undisclosed injury. However, that does not mean he is for sure able to play this week. Jackson started in his place against Alabama.
- Similarly, KJ Jefferson is listed as the starting quarterback, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll start.
|DE||Landon Jackson||Jashaud Stewart|
|DT||Eric Gregory||Terry Hampton|
|DT||Isaiah Nichols||Cam Ball|
|DE||Zach Williams||Jordan Domineck|
|MLB||Drew Sanders||Chris Paul Jr.|
|WLB||Bumper Pool||Jordan Crook||Jackson Woodard|
|NB||Myles Slusher||Trent Gordon||Jacorrei Turner|
|CB||Dwight McGlothern||Keuan Parker|
|S||Latavious Brini||Khari Johnson|
|S||Simeon Blair||Jayden Johnson|
|CB||Malik Chavis||Hudson Clark|
- Most notably, Landon Jackson is officially listed as a starter after starting the previous three games.
- At cornerback, Parker has replaced LaDarrius Bishop as a backup cornerback. Bishop has missed the last three games with a season-ending injury.
- Despite being listed as a starter, Brini has come off the bench the last two games, while Jayden Johnson has started instead.
- The depth chart is still listed with a four-man front and nickel package for the secondary. However, Arkansas has used quite a bit of dime defense against Mississippi State’s air raid offense the last two years. That is a 3-2-6 with only three defensive linemen and six defensive backs.
|P||Max Fletcher||Reid Bauer|
|LS||Eli Stein||John Oehrlein -OR-||Francisco Castro|
|KOR||AJ Green||Rashod Dubinion|
|PR||Bryce Stephens||Harper Cole|
- There are no changes to the special teams depth chart.
- Although there is an “or” listed between Oehrlein and Castro, it appears as though Oehrlein is the backup long snapper based on him being the only one – other than Stein – on the 70-man travel roster for the Texas A&M game.
How to Watch Arkansas vs Mississippi State
Date: Saturday, Oct. 8
Location: Davis Wade Stadium (Starkville, Miss.)
Kickoff Time and TV Schedule: 11 a.m. CT (SEC Network)
Announcers: Dave Neal (play-by-play), Deuce McAllister (analyst), Tiffany Blackmon (sideline reporter)
Mississippi State’s Rankings: No. 23 (AP) | No. 23 (Coaches) | No. 11 (SP+) | No. 17 (FPI)
Arkansas’ Rankings: RV (AP) | No. 25 (Coaches) | No. 31 (SP+) | No. 41 (FPI)
ESPN FPI: Arkansas has a 24.3% chance to win (down 15.0 percentage points from preseason projection)
Odds/Betting Line: Mississippi State, -7.5 | O/U 61.5 (FanDuel)
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