Game Preview: Penn State Nittany Lions vs No. 21 Arkansas Razorbacks

By Joel Neuschwander on December 31, 2021 at 9:16 am
Oct 9, 2021; Oxford, Mississippi, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback KJ Jefferson (1) celebrates with Arkansas Razorbacks running back Dominique Johnson (20) after Jefferson scored a touchdown against Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
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This one's for all the bloomin' onions. Two teams whose regular seasons ended quite differently meet in the Outback Bowl in Tampa.

  Penn State Nittany Lions Arkansas razorbacks
2021 Record 7-5 8-4
Head Coaches James Franklin (91-48, 67-33 with Penn State) Sam Pittman (11-11 all with Arkansas)
Kickoff 12:00 PM EDT
Television ESPN2
Stream WatchESPN
spread Arkansas -2

what to watch for

OPT-OUTS

Perhaps a bigger story than who will be on the field Saturday is who won't be. Neither the Nittany Lions nor the Razorbacks were immune to the wave of players opting out across the country.

Both teams will be without their star wideouts, as Penn State's Jahan Dotson and Arkansas' Treylon Burks could hear their names called early in this spring's NFL Draft. The Nittany Lions will be decimated on the defensive side of the ball, with five starters out of the picture.

LOOKING AHEAD

The bright side of all those opt-outs is that we'll get a glimpse of what 2022 could bring for Penn State. With Dotson moving on, Saturday will be Parker Washington and Keandre Lambert-Smith's first cracks at larger roles in the offense.

On defense, expect to see more of Keaton Ellis and Jaylen Reed opposite Ji'Ayir Brown at safety, Kobe King and Jamari Buddin at linebacker and D'Von Ellies and Smith Vilbert on the defensive line.

RAZORBACKS ON THE GROUND

The Nittany Lions' new-look defense faces a test right away against an Arkansas rushing attack averaging 217 yards per game — the second-highest mark in the SEC and 12th-highest in the country.

The Razorbacks have a bevy of weapons that can wear Penn State down, including dual-threat quarterback KJ Jefferson.

MOTIVATION

In the end, as cliche as it may seem, this game might come down to who wants to be there more. In this case, that advantage probably goes to Arkansas. Penn State fell apart down the stretch, losing five of its last seven, while the Razorbacks were victorious in four of their last five and are enjoying their best season in quite a while in Sam Pittman's second year, making their first bowl appearance since 2016.

prediction

Even without Dotson, Penn State's offense may surprise some folks, and this is a bowl game, so expect something wild from Mike Yurcich. It'll be intriguing to see who steps up on both sides of the ball for the Nittany Lions, but especially on defense with safeties coach Anthony Poindexter calling the plays before Manny Diaz takes over in 2022.

This will likely be a one-score game — similar to Penn State's last two bowls against SEC teams — but with so many missing pieces, it's hard to see the Nittany Lions being able to stop the run.

ARKANSAS 27, PENN STATE 21
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