FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas is 0-4 against the Big Ten in bowl games and is looking to break that losing streak on Saturday against Penn State in the Outback Bowl.
Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks were able to break several long losing streaks this season while on their way to winning all three trophy games. Now they face Penn State and hope to add the Outback Bowl to their list of accomplishments this season.
Here’s five keys for Arkansas to win the game.
KJ Jefferson Has Big Game
The saying goes the quarterback gets too much credit when the team wins and too much blame if they lose. In the case of Jefferson I think he deserves all the credit he has gotten this season and very little, if any, of the blame. Jefferson has been outstanding taking care of the football this season. He is second on the team in yards rushing. Since there’s no game the following week for Arkansas it’s probably likely Jefferson gets some additional carries against Penn State.
“I think he’s going to run if we need him to win the game,” Pittman said. “Obviously we went into Ole Miss thinking that would be the way for us to win the game, and I’m not for sure that – with us using him that much, it’s part of it, we wanted to win – that it didn’t affect him a little bit against Auburn, being beat up and those things. But we don’t play anybody, as you said, after this game. We’re going out there to do the best we can and use our personnel the best we can to win.”
Jefferson just needs to do what he has all season and that is protect the football and be a threat through the air or on the ground.
Create Some Big Plays on Offense
The Razorbacks have been pretty successful at this most of the season all season, but they are missing wide receiver Treylon Burks who created many of those big plays. Whether it’s on the ground or through the air the offense needs to create some big plays. Penn State has a very good defense, but if the Hogs can create a few plays it will help soften up the Nittany Lions’ defense. Penn State may stack the box with no Burks in the game, but Arkansas has some wide receivers who can still create separation and make a big play. De’Vion Warren, Warren Thompson, Tyson Morris, Bryce Stephens and Ketron Jackson are all capable of big plays.
Defense Create Some Turnovers
With the offense missing Burks it would be a big boost to the Hogs if they could create some turnovers and give the offense a shorter field to work with. Penn State has done a decent job of taking care of the football this season. They have thrown eight interceptions compared to three for Arkansas. Penn State has fumbled the ball 13 times and lost five of them. The Razorbacks have fumbled 21 times, but lost just six. So the Nittany Lions have 13 turnovers for the season. That is an average of just over one per game. If the Hogs could get two or three it would definitely boost the chances of Arkansas’ fans leaving the stadium smiling.
Win Special Teams
Other than two blocked punts Arkansas’ special teams have been very good this season. One key member of the special teams has moved on to the portal. Vito Calvaruso was amazing kicking off for Arkansas this season. With his departure that adds one more duty for freshman kicker Cam Little. He is 19 of 23 on field goals with a long of 51. He’s also perfect on 43 point after kicks. Reid Bauer has been solid in the punting game and has created an additional worry for the opposing team. He ran for a big first down against LSU on a fake field goal. He passed to Blake Kern for a huge touchdown against Alabama also out of a fake field goal.
Cut Down On Penalties
This is an area where Arkansas hasn’t been very good at times this season. They have hampered their own success with too many costly penalties. Penn State has been much better than Arkansas at avoiding penalties. The Hogs have been flagged 97 times for 780 yards while Penn State has been penalized 67 times for 589 yards. That is 30 more penalties for Arkansas and they simply can’t afford to do that in this game.