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Previewing The Enemy: Arkansas Razorbacks

It’s time for the Outback Bowl, folks!

After losing its regular-season finale, Penn State football will try to bounce back with a win to end the season against No. 21 Arkansas. The Razorbacks boast an 8-4 record on the year, including a 4-4 record in a tough SEC conference. Most recently, Arkansas closed its regular season with a 34-17 win over Missouri.

Before the two teams close out their season, let’s take a look at what Arkansas has to offer.

The Team

Second-year head coach Sam Pittman has led the Razorbacks to their most wins in a season since 2015. Sitting in third place in the SEC West, Arkansas will appear in its first bowl game since 2016, when it lost to Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl.

Three of the Razorbacks’ four losses have come against top-10 teams. Pittman’s squad got blown out by Georgia, but the team narrowly lost to Alabama and Ole Miss by only one possession. Arkansas’ other loss came against unranked Auburn in a 38-23 defeat, marking the only significant blemish on the Razorbacks’ resume.

Arkansas comes into this matchup with a bit of a hot streak, as it owns a 4-1 record in its last five games. In those five games, the Razorbacks have outscored their opponents 161-103.

However, the squad will be without its best wideout, as Treylon Burks opted out of the bowl and declared for the 2022 NFL Draft. Burks totaled 67 catches worth 1,123 yards and 12 touchdowns (11 receiving, one rushing) during the 2021 season.

Coming into Saturday’s game, Arkansas ranks 32nd in the nation in yards per game offensively with 440.9. The leader of its offense is signal-caller KJ Jefferson. Jefferson has had himself quite the year with 21 passing touchdowns as opposed to just three interceptions. He’s added five touchdowns on the ground.

When the Nittany Lions and Razorbacks kick off at noon on Saturday, January 1, 2022, it’ll be the first time the two teams play each other in the history of the two programs.

Offense

As James Franklin noted at his bowl-week presser, the Razorbacks’ offense runs through quarterback KJ Jefferson. After making just one start in 2020, the 6’3″, 245-pound signal-caller is now the guy for Sam Pittman’s squad.

Jefferson has paced the offense with 2,578 passing yards, but most notably is second on the team with 554 yards on the ground. The Mississippi native has grabbed at least 80 yards rushing in two games this year, including an 85-yard, three-touchdown performance in a one-point loss to Ole Miss.

The quarterback’s ability through the air isn’t necessarily dominant, but he’s put up a couple of impressive games. In the penultimate game of the regular season, Jefferson went 22-for-30 against Alabama while totaling 326 yards and three scores. In that same loss to the Rebels earlier this year, he tossed 21 completions for three more touchdowns.

Jefferson’s favorite target throughout this season has undoubtedly been Treylon Burks. Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, however, the wideout who managed a team-leading 67 catches and 1,1123 yards has elected to opt out of the bowl game. With Burks gone, the production at wide receiver faces a pretty steep drop-off. Arkansas’ next top option is Tyson Morris, who made 21 catches and two touchdowns over the course of the regular season.

Outside of the redshirt senior Morris, Anthony Poindexter’s defense should expect to see targets to Warren Thompson and De’Vion Warren. Thompson is a redshirt junior while Warren is a senior, but the first of the pair has seen more production so far. The less experienced wideout is third on the team with 18 catches worth 292 yards and two touchdowns.

As for the rushing attack outside of Jefferson, the Nittany Lions should expect a bit of a three-headed attack. Redshirt senior Trelon Smith leads the group with 117 attempts on the year, but younger backs Raheim Sanders and Dominique Johnson have also played important roles themselves. The freshman Sanders has totaled 499 yards and three scores this year, while Johnson is just behind with 498 yards and seven touchdowns.

Sanders burst onto the scene with 139 yards in the loss to Ole Miss, while Johnson had 107 yards in a close win over Mississippi State.

Defense

Arkansas hasn’t boasted a particularly potent defense this season, allowing an SEC sixth-best 24 points and 215.1 passing yards per game. The Razorbacks’ rushing defense isn’t nearly as good, as their squad has allowed north of 150 rushing yards and 1.4 rushing scores per game.

The Razorbacks’ solid pass defense was on full display in their season finale against Missouri. Arkansas held Missouri to just 65 yards in the air and defensive back Montaric Brown added an interception. However, Missouri’s Tyler Badie logged a stunning 219 yards on 41 carries. However, it was a different story the week before when Alabama’s Bryce Young threw for 559 yards and five touchdowns.

Linebacker Bumper Pool is the keystone of the defense, logging 120 tackles on the season — good for second best in the SEC. Grant Morgan and Hayden Henry, who are both also linebackers, also ranked in the top 10 for tackles in the conference. 

Arkansas’ pass rush is centered around defensive lineman Tre Williams, who added six sacks to his 28 tackles during the 2021 campaign. He doubled Henry’s sack count of three, which is the second-most on the Razorbacks’ defense.

Brown has led the way defending against the pass, as he leads the SEC with five interceptions. His five pass breakups are also fifth-best in the conference. He comes in at a pure six feet and 190 pounds.

Arkansas’ secondary as a whole allowed just 1.3 scores through the air during the season, which is good for fourth-best in the SEC. Opponents have completed 59.8% of their passes against the Razorbacks’ defense.

Special Teams

True freshman Cam Little handles the kicking for Pittman’s Razorbacks. Little has drilled all 43 of his extra points, and he’s made 19 of 23 field goals on the season, good for 82.6%. Little has accounted for 100 of Arkansas’ points this season.

Reid Bauer has been Arkansas’ punter this season. He’s punted the ball 53 times for 2,288 yards, which adds up to 43.2 yards per punt.

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