What will Arkansas do if KJ Jefferson can't start vs. Mississippi State?

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas football could be without its starting quarterback when it plays Mississippi State on Saturday. KJ Jefferson left the Razorbacks' Week 5 game against Alabama in the fourth quarter after coach Sam Pittman said he hit his head while being tackled.

On Monday, Pittman declined to say whether Jefferson was in concussion protocol. Wednesday morning, he added that Jefferson had not practiced Monday or Tuesday.

"Our rule is you’ve got to practice on Wednesday if we’re going to play you on Saturday," Pittman said Wednesday morning.

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On his radio show Wednesday night, Pittman said Jefferson participated in practice Wednesday and will make the trip Starkville on Saturday (11 a.m. CT, SECN). He added it still isn't clear whether Jefferson will be able to play, and the priority is his health.

"I don’t know how well he’s going to react to physical movement," Pittman said. "If he reacts really well, then we’ll have a decision to make on what we’re going to do moving forward."

If Jefferson can't play against Mississippi State, Arkansas will presumably turn to walk-on South Florida transfer Cade Fortin. Fortin came in for Jefferson when he left the game against Alabama, completing four of his 10 passes for 35 yards in the loss.

Fortin is far from a proven quarterback. He has four career starts, two at North Carolina and two after transferring to USF. He has a career completion percentage of 49.6% on 131 throws and a career quarterback rating of 88.5. He has thrown one touchdown and three interceptions.

Pittman admitted he didn't know much about Fortin when Arkansas first recruited him out of the transfer portal. He knew the Razorbacks needed depth at quarterback, however, and that Fortin was looking for a place to go.

"He just wanted to find a place where he thought he could grow," Pittman said. "He’s been an outstanding member of our team. Very mature kid, works hard, knowledgeable, good thrower and can run."

Arkansas also has Malik Hornsby at its disposal, who had been listed as the No. 2 QB on the depth chart before Fortin came in for Jefferson. Pittman said he considers Hornsby more of a runner and Fortin more of a passer, and he feels Arkansas could use both players against Mississippi State if Jefferson were unavailable.

From a matchup standpoint, there are worse weeks to lose your starting quarterback. Statistically, Mississippi State's defense is around the middle of the SEC pack. It has allowed 215 passing yards per game and six touchdowns through the air along with 118 rushing yards per game and eight rushing touchdowns. If Arkansas has to rely on its strong running game, it could put up good numbers against a defense that's solid but not impenetrable.

The problem will come if the Bulldogs run up the score with their pass-heavy offense and strong run game against a depleted Arkansas secondary. If the Razorbacks get behind early, as they did against Alabama, it could be hard for a backup to lead a comeback on the road.

Mississippi State coach Mike Leach said his team's preparation hasn't changed much with the uncertainty surrounding its opponent's leader.

"We know everything about (Jefferson)," Leach said Monday. " Whoever is behind him, we’ll see.... I don’t think they’re going to change their whole offense. It’s difficult to do in a week no matter who you’re playing. It’ll be pretty similar to what they do already."

Christina Long covers the Arkansas Razorbacks for the Southwest Times Record and USA Today Network. You can follow her on Twitter @christinalong00 or email her at clong@swtimes.com.

This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: Evaluating Arkansas football's QB situation with KJ Jefferson hurt