Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Hornsby delivered on day when Razorbacks couldn't
Arkansas quarterback Malik Hornsby (right) speaks with offensive coordinator Kendal Briles during a game against Mississippi State on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, in Starkville, Miss.
STARKVILLE, Miss. — Malik Hornsby should have started.
On Saturday, he was a gamer for the Arkansas Razorbacks. He may be the third-team quarterback in practice, but turn the scoreboard on and he turns up the jukebox.
The redshirt sophomore might not have changed the final outcome, a 40-17 win by Mississippi State. The Bulldogs rolled easily to a 21-0 lead and never trailed, scoring on six of their 10 possessions.
Starting quarterback KJ Jefferson was wisely held out of action after an apparent head injury a week earlier against Alabama, but the real quarterback problem for Arkansas on Saturday was wearing home team maroon.
Will Rogers looked like a Heisman Trophy candidate against a defense that has been hurt by injuries.
It didn’t help that the three-man rush the Razorbacks used from start to finish caused Rogers zero problems and dropping extra defenders to cover his talented corp of receivers meant nothing to him.
Rogers passed to 10 different receivers, and they made some hard catches look routine.
Rogers finished 31 of 48 for 395 yards and 3 touchdowns, and he was rarely touched and never knocked down.
Jo’quavious Marks was a player Mike Leach finds ways to keep on the field. The junior had 11 catches for 80 yards and ran 16 times for 52 yards.
Razorback fans have been told since camp started in August that the coaches needed to find a way to get Hornsby on the field because he is a speedy playmaker.
So it was a bit of surprise last week when Jefferson had to leave the game that South Florida transfer Cade Fortin took the field instead of Hornsby.
Head coach Sam Pittman said after the game that he and the staff had decided weeks ago Fortin was the No. 2 quarterback. Fortin completed 4 of 10 passes for 35 yards and rushed once for 9 yards against the Tide and he got the nod to start Saturday.
It was quickly obvious that the only way the Razorbacks were going to have a shot at beating Mississippi State was to outscore the Bulldogs. When Hornsby entered, he went 52 yards the first time he touched the ball on a drive that reached the Bulldogs’ 8-yard line before ending on a fourth and 1 from the 8.
Hornsby finished with 114 yards rushing on 8 carries and 234 yards 8-of-17 passing. He did have two interceptions and a touchdown.
He was a play maker.
The biggest problem the Razorbacks had Saturday was stopping the Bulldogs, who surprisingly ran the ball six times on each of their first two drives.
The game could have been played on the west side of the Mississippi River on a 50-yard field.
More than half, 52, of the 85 plays the Bulldogs ran were in Arkansas territory.
By the time the final buzzer sounded — when it appeared the Bulldogs were on the verge of scoring again — they had 568 yards of total offense and suffered no sacks or tackles for loss.
In most games, 483 yards of total offense would have you on the winning side, but the Hogs also had drives die at the MSU 1 and twice the 30. You can’t waste scoring drives against anyone but especially a quality SEC opponent. Penalties hurt, too.
The Bulldogs dominated, although the Razorbacks got within 27-17 late in the third quarter after Bryce Stephens made a leaping over-the-shoulder catch for a 54-yard touchdown in which Hornsby was 3-of-3 passing.
The biggest decision made Saturday wasn’t to put the defense on the field to start the game after winning the coin toss, but to not play Jefferson. One game is never worth a person’s health.
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