Will Rogers’ Injury Only Rachets Up Pressure On Hogs’ Defense Given Troubling Trend

Mike Wright, Will Rogers, Arkansas football, Mississippi State football, Arkansas vs Mississippi State
photo credit: MSU Athletics

FAYETTEVILLE — The Razorbacks will be tasked with defending a backup quarterback again in Saturday’s Arkansas vs Mississippi State matchup.

According to a report by ESPN, the Bulldogs will be without star quarterback Will Rogers, who had started 38 straight games, but suffered a shoulder injury in their last game. That means they’ll start speedy backup Mike Wright instead.

At face value, that’s good news for Sam Pittman’s crew. Rogers is widely considered one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC and has lit up the Razorbacks’ defense the last two years, completing 68 of 97 passes (70.1%) for 823 yards, seven touchdowns and only one interception.

Wright, on the other hand, has played sparingly. In six appearances this year, he’s completed 8 of 11 passes for 61 yards and one touchdown. However, he’s much more of a dual-threat quarterback — a stark contrast to Rogers.

While Rogers has negative career rushing yards (minus-341, to be exact), Wright is dangerous with his legs. This season, he has 138 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries, a 6.9-yard average. Add in his time at Vanderbilt and he has 1,043 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.

“He’s fast,” Pittman said earlier this week. “Obviously, they’ll run him with run-designed plays for him. Not just read plays where he can have the opportunity to keep it. Run a lot of fly sweeps with him, with the opportunity to pitch or keep. Right now, they’re reading the defensive end, and allowing him to run or hand it off.”

Pittman also acknowledged that Wright “throws better than I want him to.” With the Commodores, though, he completed just 55.3% of his passes and averaged only 6.2 yards per attempt, with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

We’ll be providing live updates from the Arkansas vs Mississippi State matchup — a game Pittman all but said is “must win” — below, complete with updates on how the Razorbacks are doing against Wright…

LIVE UPDATES — Arkansas vs Mississippi State

Pregame Tidbits

Despite not being available to play, Rocket Sanders is here and supporting his teammates.

Good news on the injury front: Cam Ball, Jaylen Braxton, Dwight McGlothern, Chris Paul Jr. and Devon Manuel all are dressed out and went through pregame warmups.

Braxton and Paul worked with the first unit, while McGlothern and Manuel went with the 2s. According to the UA radio show, McGlothern and Ball are each expected to play.

Reserve defensive back LaDarrius Bishop is not dressed out.

Arkansas won the coin toss and deferred. That means Mississippi State will receive the game’s opening kickoff.

12:30, 1Q – Arkansas 3, Mississippi State 0

On the second play of the game, Alfahiym Walcott jumped in front of a pass on the sideline and picked off Mike Wright. The Razorbacks quickly got into the red zone, but stalled out inside the 10. Cam Little’s 24-yard field goal gets Arkansas on the board.

END of 1Q – Arkansas 3, Mississippi State 0

The Bulldogs are in the red zone as the first quarter ends.

13:03, 2Q – Mississippi State 7, Arkansas 3

The Bulldogs sliced right through the Arkansas defense on their fourth possession, covering 69 yards in nine plays. It was capped by a 2-yard touchdown pass from Wright to Jo’Quavious Marks. However, it’s worth noting that Marks was shaken up on the play.

HALF – Mississippi State 7, Arkansas 3

3:54, 3Q – Mississippi State 7, Arkansas 3

It looked like Cam Little was going to get to try a 51-yard field goal, but Arkansas took too long getting the FG unit on the field and drew a delay of game penalty. It had to punt it away instead.

END of 3Q – Mississippi State 7, Arkansas 3

1:14, 4Q – Mississippi State 7, Arkansas 3

Searcy native Kyle Ferrie missed a 29-yard field goal to give Arkansas another chance.

FINAL – Mississippi State 7, Arkansas 3

Hogs’ Recent History vs. Backup QBs

In theory, a backup quarterback isn’t as good as the starter, but Arkansas football fans have a pretty pessimistic view on that given the Razorbacks’ recent history.

Those comments have some merit.

Just this year, Max Johnson led Texas A&M to a 34-22 win over Arkansas in his first start for the injured Conner Weigman. He completed 17 of 28 passes for 210 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Despite not being known as a mobile quarterback, he also hurt the Razorbacks on the ground by rushing for 57 yards on nine carries.

Last season, the Razorbacks knocked Bryce Young out of the Alabama game and Jalen Milroe struggled early, but eventually ripped off a 77-yard run to kill their momentum after pulling within 28-23 in the fourth quarter. He finished 4 of 9 passes for 65 yards and a touchdown, plus had 91 yards and a score on six carries.

Arkansas also faced Johnson while he was at LSU, but he was replaced early in the 2021 game by backup Garrett Nussmeier. The Razorbacks actually had success against him, limiting him to 179 yards and one touchdown on 18-of-31 passing while intercepting him twice. They won that game 16-13 in overtime.

In Pittman’s first year, Arkansas opened the season against Georgia, who was without projected starter and USC transfer JT Daniels because of an injury. D’Wan Mathis got the start for the Bulldogs, but struggled — completing 8 of 17 passes for 55 yards and one interception. He was eventually lifted for a little-known walk-on named Stetson Bennett.

Bennett helped Georgia pull away for a 37-10 win by completing 20 of 29 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns. At the time, no one knew he would eventually lead the Bulldogs to back-to-back national championships and become a Heisman Trophy finalist.

Perhaps the most frustrating example in recent years, though, happened in 2019. With Sawyer Smith still shelved because of wrist and shoulder injuries, Kentucky moved wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. to quarterback.

All he did was gash the Razorbacks for 196 rushing yards on 24 carries. He scored twice on the ground and once through the air in the Wildcats’ 24-20 comeback win. Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek later pointed to that game as the moment he knew Chad Morris wasn’t going to work out as the head coach.

How to Watch Arkansas vs Mississippi State

Date: Saturday, Oct. 21

Location: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (Fayetteville, Ark.)

Kickoff Time and TV Schedule: 11 a.m. CT (SEC Network)

Announcers: Mark Jones (play-by-play), Louis Riddick (color analyst), Quint Kessenich (sideline reporter)

Mississippi State’s Rankings: NR (AP) | NR (Coaches) | No. 49 (SP+) | No. 48 (FPI)

Arkansas’ Rankings: NR (AP) | NR (Coaches) | No. 48 (SP+) | No. 31 (FPI)

ESPN FPI: Arkansas has an 67.6% chance to win

SP+ Projection: Arkansas has a 56% chance to win, favored by 2.7 (proj. score: 30-27)

Odds/Betting Line: Arkansas, -6.5 | O/U 46.5 (BetSaracen)


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