The Difference Penn State Hemorrhaging All That Star Talent Will Actually Make vs Hogs

Outback Bowl

In terms of all-time wins and winning percentage, Penn State is clearly in a tier above the Arkansas football program. The Nittany Lions have won the seventh-most games among major college footballs, while Arkansas lands at No. 24 all time. On top of that, Penn State has won 68.8% of its games while Arkansas clocks in at 57.8%.

That disparity grows much more wide when taking into account the trajectories of the programs throughout much of last decade, post Petrino for Arkansas and post Paterno for Penn State. In each of the seasons from 2012 through 2021, Penn State had more wins than Arkansas in all but two seasons.

So it should be no surprise that the Citizens Bank in State College, Pa. near campus has created a line of buttons for each game this season that are distributed to Nittany Lion fans. The latest puts the Arkansas vs Penn State Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 in the spotlight:

Good on you, Citizens Bank, for having a personality.

However, your marketing folks may be better off figuring out ways to fund NIL deals to slow the veritable torrent of Penn State stars opting out of the game to begin preparing for the 2022 NFL Draft. Here’s a more recent list:

That means Penn State will go without five starters on defense and its top weapon (Dotson) on offense. In theory, Penn State should be a lot more devastated by opt outs than Arkansas, which lost its top receiver in Treylon Burks and best defensive end in Tre Williams.

This is why Penn State opened as an early favorite, but has slipped to a 2.5-point underdog. So, yes, the Nittany Lions are depleted, but it would be foolhardy to think that the young players looking for a chance to shine instead can’t do the job. Penn State football coach James Franklin, after all, has pulled in a lot of stellar recruiting classes in the last five years so that depth should come through in a time like that.

Penn State Football Like Auburn

Indeed, the talent across the board is why four Arkansas football players recently said that Penn State most reminds them of Auburn, a team that won 38-23 in Fayetteville this season, just a month after losing to the Nittany Lions.

“Maybe not the Auburn team that just played against Houston a little bit ago, but everybody compared this team to Auburn, aside from them having so many tight ends,” Hawgsports’ Trey Biddy said on The Buzz 103.7 FM. “They can go 13 personnel if they want to. Three tight ends they feel really good about, so that’s probably the only thing that’s a little bit different, but offense and defensively that’s who they compare this team to.”

Arkansas football fans have a history of erroneously sensing an edge in bowl games vs Big Ten opponents. Whether its speed over lumbering size, the way it was supposed to be in Arkansas first three matchups with Big Ten foes in bowl games, or where five starters wouldn’t play until they were allowed to, like with Ohio State in the 2011 BCS Sugar Bowl.

You recall how those previous four bowl games with Big Ten opponents went over the past 23 years (all losses), and it easily deters one from rushing down to Saracen Casino in Pine Bluff to place a wager for Arkansas. Fool us four times, shame on you, but five times? Yeah, we’ll see.

in the past 17 years or so, Southeastern Conference powerhouses have displayed more speed than those teams up north, especially in terms of having fast and large defensive linemen, but Arkansas has rarely possessed such. Maybe the 2006 team, which played Wisconsin in the 2007 Capital One Bowl in Orlando, had a real SEC quality front four led by NFL first-round draft pick Jamaal Anderson, but the Razorbacks have never looked like LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Florida or Georgia in their defensive primes.

Offensively, with the exception of the Darren McFadden-Felix Jones tandem (also eventual first-round draft picks), the Hogs have mostly plodded along with their Big Ten counterparts in these matchups. Even with the speedy trio of receivers in the 2011 BCS Sugar Bowl, Arkansas found Ohio State’s defensive backs able to keep up (and dropped as many as six passes when they shook free that night in New Orleans).

So, even with Penn State down those six notable starters for Saturday’s game, it seems pointless for a Hog fan to think the foe this time will be out-quicked or outmanned in the speed department, or that a solid recruiting from Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin won’t leave him with enough “next man up” depth to fill most of the gaps. Arkansas’s supposed edge in the “fast” department never panned out when matched up against the supposed lumbering giants of the Midwest before, and nobody’s bothering to trot the line out this time.

It would have been fascinating, though, to see how fleet 6’3” junior wide receiver Treylon Burks would match up against the Nittany Lions’ defensive backs, but the All-SEC product from Warren opted out of the bowl game to start his pursuit of an NFL career and likely first-round NFL Draft selection. Arkansas’s best speed rusher on defense, Tre Williams, DUI’d himself out of the game with his recent arrest (seemingly allowed to save face, Williams opted out as well before any UA disciplinary action was announced). 

Where Arkansas will find any difference-making speed outside of those two remains to be seen. Raheim “Rocket” Sanders, who did it all as a runner and receiver in Georgia high school football, showed speed and power at running back this freshman year, averaging 4.9 yards per carry on 101 attempts, and Razorback offensive coordinator Kendal Briles could dial up some special plays for Sanders in lieu of Burks on Jan. 1. Flashy freshman A.J. Green, who also made some exciting plays early in the season with his hands on short passes, then learned to tough it out in the running game late, figures to get more touches at running back if Sanders spends a little time at receiver.

How to Watch Arkansas vs Penn State Outback Bowl

When: Jan. 1

Time: 11 am (central)

Where: Tampa, Florida

On TV: ESPN2 with Dave Fleming (play-by-play), Rod Gilmore (analyst) and Stormy Buonantony (reporter) on the call.

Online: Click here to watch the game on your computer, phone, tablet, or another streaming device.

Radio: Chuck Barrett and Quinn Grovey will call the game on the radio at ESPN Arkansas 99.5 FM in Fayetteville, 95.3 in the River Valley, 96.3 in Hot Springs and central Arkansas, 104.3 in Harrison-Mountain Home.

Streaming audio: Go to the Arkansas Razorbacks app

Cool fact: Arkansas is headed to Florida for a bowl game for the first time since 2007, where the Hogs will be playing in their first New Year’s Day game since the 2008 Cotton Bowl.

Arkansas vs Penn State Outback Bowl Preview

Penn State allowed a little over 130 yards rushing per game, but the Nittany Lions barely cracked 100 yards a game on the ground themselves. A telltale for Saturday would be whether Penn State is picking up chunks of yards early against Arkansas coordinator Barry Odom’s rush-three, drop-eight defensive look. The Nittany Lions have gone 11 straight games without a 100-yard rusher. Compared with Arkansas and its run-first attack, one could see the logic in thinking Penn State has lost more losing wide-out Dotson than Arkansas will with Burks sitting out.

Healthy, and with quarterback Sean Clifford at full speed, the Nittany Lions were ranked No. 5 in the country when they ventured into Iowa City for a Top 5 showdown with No. 3 Iowa in early October. Penn State had already beaten Auburn 28-20 at home a month earlier. But Clifford went down when Penn State was up 17-3, and Penn State’s offense went with him, allowing Iowa to pull out a 23-20 win.

From there, with Clifford likely playing hurt the rest of the way, the Lions were up and down, losing four of their next six games to finish 7-5, including a weird nine-overtime loss to Bret Bielema and Iowa, 20-18, at home. They also lost to Ohio State by 9, Michigan by 4 and Michigan State in the finale by 3.

But it’s awfully hard to determine just what Nittany Lion team will be showing up in Tampa on Saturday, especially with all the key personnel exits. Arkansas could certainly use Burks to open up the field, but the Razorbacks may be able to lean more than usual on their running game behind sophomore quarterback K.J. Jefferson, and Jefferson may get a few passes downfield to veteran Tyson Morris, Warren Thompson and promising youngster Ketron Jackson, along with the Hogs’ tight end by committee of Trey Knox, Blake Kern and Hudson Henry.

Arkansas rarely turned the ball over. Jefferson only threw three interceptions all season, and one of those was a before-halftime hail Mary to the end zone at Ole Miss. When the Hogs did cough it up (6 times over the year), like against Auburn, a fumble in its own end zone for a Tigers TD, it was the difference. Arkansas didn’t force many turnovers either – just three fumbles and 11 interceptions. Penn State, on the other hand, created turnovers, recovering 7 of 14 forced fumbles and intercepting 12 throws. The Nittany Lions lost 5 fumbles and threw 8 picks.

Penn State converted 16 of 23 field goals and punted for a 45.08 net yard average. Arkansas’s freshman Cam Little made 19 of 23 field goals, and Arkansas also converted two fakes by holder Reid Bauer for huge plays down the stretch against LSU and Alabama. Bauer had a net punting average of 38.5, but coverage was usually excellent.

Potential X-Factor in Outback Bowl

Or maybe penalties, and especially Arkansas’s propensity for stretches of drawing flats (offensive line procedure penalties, anyone?), factor. Arkansas has been penalized 98 times to Penn State’s 67 over 12 games, and for almost 200 more yards than the Nittany Lions.

At this point, the Outback Bowl is essentially considered a toss-up. That’s fair. Turnovers and the kicking game will likely decide it, of course; that and the “big plays” of 20 or more yards. I personally like that stat now, even if I first heard it mentioned as being a more significant stat compared to turnovers by Missouri head coach Eliah Drinkwitz (and even if it’s probably the last important stat that doesn’t show up on all the pages of statistics following each game). It certainly proved true in the Arkansas-Missouri season finale, won by the Hogs 34-17. The teams were even in turnovers (Hogs fumbled, but also intercepted the Tigers), but Arkansas had six plays of 20 or more yards to Missouri’s one (another big Tiger gain was wiped out by penalty).

Of course, Burks was responsible for two of those. The guys who managed the others the day after Thanksgiving – De’Vion Warren, Ketron Jackson and K.J. Jefferson – and maybe a few more Hogs will have to take up the big-play slack Saturday.

Insiders Discuss Depth on Penn State Football Team

Dustin Hockensmith, a reporter for PennLive, hopped on Keystone Sports Network to talk about how the opt outs could affect the Outback Bowl.

“There’s a trickle down because you lose Jahan Dotson and now you’re going to be asking Parker Washington to do more, you’re going to be asking KeAndre Lambert-Smith to do more, maybe a guy like Malick Meiga, maybe it’s the tight ends.

Hockensmith thinks Parker Washington could emerge as the 1A for Penn State in the same many believe Warren Thompson will do so for the Razorbacks.

“I think Parker Washington, why not get him started on that wide receiver one path and make him your go-to guy and force feed him and make sure that he gets a benchmark minimum number of touches? But with the offensive line group upfront that’s had its issues anyway you’re going to take Rasheed Walker [left tackle seen on crutches in Tamps] out of there? There’s a lot of questions about that and there’s still questions about the run-game, more questions now about how good Penn State’s defense is going to be up the middle of it?”

On Penn State Quarterback Sean Clifford

“I went back and watched the Penn State game against Auburn. Sean Clifford was 28 for 32 in that game, that’s 87%. That was a different quarterback than what we saw the second half of the season. If he’s healthy now, if that’s the difference between what we saw the second half of the season and what we saw those first five games, that alone could make up for the absence of Dotson I believe.”

“And I think with all the football he’s played, getting healthier and getting an extended opportunity to look at what Arkansas’s defense is going to try to do to him. I like his chances of having a big game and you think about what that does in terms of the outlook for 2022 to have Sean Clifford come in and just light it up in the outback bowl will go a long way towards easing fans concerns, so I do like his chances. You do have an Arkansas defense that as you mentioned with Tre Williams the team leader, one of the national leaders in DUIs [hardy har har] I believe but he’s he’s at or near the top off of that list but in terms of the Arkansas’s running game.”

How to Make Up for Loss of Jaquan Brisker

“It’s a huge challenge here because Jaquan Brisker when there’s three minutes left and you need to play on defense, he’s the guy who is often in that position. Your emotional leader as well as just an unbelievable football player who’s good against the run and the pass, take that out. Now take out your middle linebacker, your leader, your play caller, take out Brandon Smith and now you are worse in two positions, middle linebacker and at Smith’s spot there and Tangelo, you lose [injured] PJ Mustipher he was instrumental in these defensive line not completely crumbling…

“Now you’re looking at leaning on some young guys, you’re going to ask Coziah Izzard to do more than he’s ever done. You’re going to ask Dvon Ellies to do more than he has ever done and now if Ebiketie doesn’t play now you’re between a rock and a hard place. Okay what do we do with Jesse Luketa? He could have a lot of value in terms of playing middle linebacker, he’s probably our best candidate to replace Ellis Brooks.”

Hear the entire interview here:

Hockensmith thinks a lot of Sam Pittman and the Razorbacks and thinks Arkansas will have the edge in effort. But it won’t be enough, he predicts. “I don’t think Arkansas takes anything off. Understand Pittman, that personality trait carries over to his team. So I would give Arkansas the edge there. I think Penn State’s got more playmakers. I’m picking them to win 28-24.”

Arkansas vs Penn State Game Notes

The Arkansas rushing attack is one of the best in the country this season, averaging 217.3 yards per game on the ground to rank second in the SEC and 12th nationally. Four ball carriers have each totaled over 400 rushing yards this year in running back Trelon Smith (592), quarterback KJ Jefferson (554) and running backs Dominique Johnson (499) and Raheim Sanders (498). Arkansas and Ole Miss are the only two teams in FBS that feature four 450-yard rushers this year.

KJ Jefferson is one of only four signal callers in the country to throw 20 or more touchdown passes with three or fewer interceptions. The Sardis, Miss. product has posted three 300+ yard passing games with at least three touchdown passes, the most by a Razorback quarterback since Brandon Allen in 2015 (3 games).

Razorback cornerback Montaric Brown produced one of the best seasons by a Razorback cornerback of late and earned All-SEC first team honors from the coaches. Brown tied for the SEC lead making five interceptions, which tied for second-most nationally. His five picks are tied for ninth in a single season in school history and make him the first Razorback to tally five or more interceptions in a season since Tramain Thomas in 2011. Brown became the first Arkansas cornerback since Ahmad Carroll in 2003 to earn first-team recognition from the league’s coaches. (via Razorback Communications)

See our latest on the Outback Bowl here:

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