By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — No. 25 Arkansas is preparing for No. 23 Mississippi State and the Hogs may have to play without starting quarterback KJ Jefferson.
Jefferson was injured in the fourth quarter against Alabama suffering a head injury. When Jefferson exited on Saturday Sam Pittman went with Cade Fortin. But Malik Hornsby is also available and the two are both getting extensive work in practice this week. Center Ricky Stromberg feels the Hogs will have a good quarterback for him to snap to on Saturday.
‘Yeah, they’re both great QBs,” Stromberg said. “It doesn’t matter who’s behind me, who I’m snapping to, because I’ve got great confidence in them. We have three really good QBs, including KJ obviously. So no, I have no concern with them at all. I’m excited to have either one of them behind me. As an offense, we’re confident in them.”
Fortin was 4 of 10 passing for 35 yards and ran for nine on Saturday in his action. Wide receiver Ketron Jackson has caught touchdown passes in each of the last two games. He talked about how Fortin and Hornsby are preparing in practice this week.
“Just being at practice both of them have been super confident in the huddle and been confident calling plays,” Jackson said. “We’ve been imitating the loud noise just to get them settled in for the game Saturday.”
Two Changes in Secondary
Due to injuries, Arkansas has had to make adjustments all season in the secondary. On Tuesday the Hogs moved cornerback Hudson Clark to safety. In addition, they shifted true freshman wide receiver Sam Mbake to cornerback. Safety Simeon Blair talked about the changes following Tuesday’s practice.
“Yeah, Sam’s a very great athlete,” Blair said. “He goes on 110% each and every day, whether that’s at gunner, whether we’ll send him to receiver on scout team, and now seeing him at DB. He does a lot of good for us. He picks up on the defense very quick. And Hud, we’ve crossed-trained all spring ball, all fall camp.
“And Hud’s a very smart player, so it was really a very easy transition when we saw him at safety a little bit this week. He’s a very smart player. He’s able to break on routes very good. I feel like he can be a very good help to us back there.”
This season, Clark has played in all five games. He has nine tackles, six solo, one for loss, four pass breakups, a recovered fumble and two forced ones. Prior to this season, Clark has played in 20 games with 11 starts. He had 69 tackles, including 41 solo, two for loss, three interceptions and four pass breakups.
Mbake has played on special teams and accumulated one tackle there.
Record about to be Broken
Former Arkansas linebacker Tony Bua holds the all-time tackles record with 408, but that mark is close to being passed by Bumper Pool.
Pool has 46 tackles in five games this season and now sits at 395 in his career. He needs 14 tackles to pass Bua. Pool talked about what the record would mean on Tuesday.
“That’s what makes coming to Arkansas so special, is there is a ton of talent that has played here and there’s such great history,” Pool said. “Anytime that you can have a piece of history with a school like Arkansas, it will mean everything to you. We’re just going out there to get a win, and then we’ll worry about all that whenever it happens.”
Bua was the honorary captain for Arkansas against Texas A&M earlier this season. Pool knows Bua and talked about that factoring into possibly breaking the record.
“I think Tony being such a great person makes it even more special,” Pool said. “I had the opportunity to talk to him before the Texas A&M game. Just kind of to see his determination on the field and then again off the field at the age he’s at now, he’s got that fire in him. The fact that he’s had it for so long makes it that much more special. This weekend, getting to go out there and play Mississippi State at that stadium, we’ve had success there two years ago. In that locker room, it means something to us because we got our first SEC win there. So all of that coming together is special. We’re very excited about getting out there this Saturday.”
In 2020, Arkansas defeated Mississippi State in Starkville 21-14 to earn Sam Pittman his first win as head coach of the Hogs. In that game, Pool had 20 tackles which if he duplicates that he would hold the record on Saturday.
“Like I said, that locker room, there’s not that many moments you have in life that are that special,” Pool said. “Especially for how hard we had worked leading up to that point. Being able to get the win, having those 20 tackles, just a great moment for myself and for the entire team and getting that ‘turn the jukebox on’ thing. Just very special. We have it in the back of our mind to get that swagger back this week and get back in there.”
Arkansas and Mississippi State will kickoff at 11 a.m. on Saturday and televised on the SEC Network.