Just a few days ago, the SEC was reeling during the 2021 bowl season.
A 1-5 start did the conference no favor among critics–that was until Alabama and Georgia prevailed in both College Football Playoff Semifinals on Friday. Make it a three-game win streak for the SEC after Arkansas (9-4) defeated Penn State (7-6) 24-10 in the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Saturday.
It’s quite the turnaround for the Arkansas program in just its second year under head coach Sam Pittman. After finishing 2-10 just two seasons ago, Arkansas has its first nine-win season since 2011 under Bobby Petrino.
Working without star receiver Treylon Burks, the Arkansas passing offense was almost non-existent. Burks, a potential first-round pick, opted out. His 1,135 receiving yards were No. 1 on the team, far more than any other Razorbacks pass catcher. Next up was Warren Thompson, who came into the game with 18 receptions for 292 yards.
Thompson was credited with an interception on the day, resulting in a failed trick play just before half. While the first interception of the game was thrown by K.J. Jefferson, Thompson didn’t do his quarterback any favors.
On Arkansas’ first drive of the game, it was Thompson who was standing wide open in the end zone. As Jefferson threw towards him, Thompson was outworked by safety Ja’Ayir Brown, who came down with the touchdown saving pick.
Thompson finished with just one catch for 12 yards on two targets. Jefferson, meanwhile, threw for just 90 yards on 14-of-19 passing and was sacked five times.
The Arkansas rushing offense, entering the day No. 11 in the FBS, had its way with the Penn State front. Dominique Johnson led the backfield with 85 yards on 11 carries. Raheim Sanders had 13 carries for 79 yards and two touchdowns.
The dual-threat Jefferson, ran 20 times for 110 yards and an eight-yard score to give the Razorbacks a 14-10 lead 12:42 remaining in the third quarter.
Jefferson is the first Arkansas quarterback to run for 100 yards in a single game since Matt Jones in 2004. The Razorbacks ran for 361 yards on 58 carries, the second most in the history of the Outback Bowl.
The Penn State offense was the better of the two in the first half, with quarterback Sean Clifford accounting for 172 of the Nittany Lions’ 229 total yards. The highlight was a 42-yard touchdown pass to receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith with 10:53 remaining in the second quarter. Lambert-Smith took advantage of a busted coverage for his third touchdown of the season.
Lambert-Smith had three receptions for 74 yards on eight targets. Parker Washington hauled in seven of his eight targets for 98 yards. Washington made the play of the day in a losing effort, breaking out his best Odell Beckham Jr. impression.
Clifford threw for just 23 yards in the second half and was yanked for backup Christian Veilleux in the fourth quarter. Clifford, who announced he’s returning for a sixth season in 2022, finished 14-of-32 for 195 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Like Arkansas, Penn State entered New Year’s Day without its top receiver, Jahan Dotson. Dotson, like Burks, is a possible first-round selection and opted out.
Fresh off signing a 10-year, $70 million extension to remain Penn State head coach, James Franklin finishes 7-6 for the third time in his tenure.