Penn State (7-5) will be without six starters, five on the defensive side, due to opt outs against Arkansas (8-4) in the 2022 Outback Bowl. The 2022 Outback Bowl will be played on Saturday, January 1st, at 12:00 PM ET and will air on ESPN2. The Nittany Lions will be without standout wide receiver Jahan Dotson as the only player on the offense to opt out. In addition, defensive end Arnold Ebiketie, linebackers Ellis Brooks and Brandon Smith, star safety Jaquan Brisker, and defensive tackle Derrick Tangelo have opted out on defense. This means that several young players will need to step into a bigger role.
2022 Outback Bowl: Penn State vs Arkansas
This is the first time that Penn State and Arkansas will play each other. The Razorbacks have never faced the Nittany Lions, and have only beaten a Big Ten opponent two times. Sam Pittman’s team went 4-4 in the SEC this season, finishing the 2021 season ranked No. 21. The Nittany Lions started the season strong but went on a three-game skid in the middle of the season. Penn State finished 4-5 in the Big Ten.
Nittany Lions on Offense
Penn State will be without stand out wide receiver Dotson in this game. Dotson led the Nittany Lions with 1,182 receiving yards, 12 receiving touchdowns, and 91 receptions. This means that Parker Washington and Keandre Lambert-Smith will need to take the load. Washington is second on the team in receptions (57), receiving yards (722), and receiving touchdowns (four). It will likely be between those two and the tight ends, Brenton Strange and Theo Johnson, to keep the offense going. Quarterback Sean Clifford will undoubtedly be busy through the air, with the very inconsistent play of the run game. However, Penn State shouldn’t completely abandon the run, Arkansas gives up an average of 156.3 rush yards per game.
Arkansas doesn’t have any opt outs on defense. Defensive lineman Tre’ Williams leads the Razorbacks with six sacks this season. The transfer from Missouri is definitely someone that the subpar Nittany Lion offensive line has to watch for. Especially with some shuffling on the line for this game. Other than Williams, the Razorbacks’ strength isn’t the defensive front. It’s the secondary. Arkansas has 10 interceptions on the season. With Montaric Brown being responsible for five of those. Quick, short passes will be Clifford’s friend on Saturday.
Penn State on Defense
The Penn State defense has been the heart of the team this season. While there have been several games that the run defense hasn’t been the best. The unit as a whole has taken a “bend don’t break” attitude and for the most part, it has worked. The problem? Four defensive starters will not be playing on Saturday. Head coach James Franklin has addressed this issue this week and is considering burning a few redshirts. Fans will likely be watching for freshmen linebackers Jamari Buddin and Kobe King. Franklin stated that he isn’t making these decisions alone. Other coaches, the players, and even their families have been in on the discussion to possibly burn their redshirt status. It will depend on how well Jonathan Sutherland and Curtis Jacobs hold up. Jesse Luketa is also available at linebacker, but will also rotate at defensive end.
Arkansas will be without its star receiver as well. Treylon Burks will not suit up on Saturday. Burks leads the Razorbacks with 67 receptions for 1,123 yards and 11 receiving touchdowns. Where the Nittany Lions have a few other receivers trusted by Clifford, no other Arkansas receiver has over 300 receiving yards on the season. Further, Tyson Morris is second on the list with 20 receptions. Quarterback K.J. Jefferson will look to get the run game going early and often. Jefferson leads the Razorbacks in rushing attempts with 126 and rushing touchdowns with five. The Penn State secondary will be without Brisker, but the rest of the secondary is intact. Will the rushing defense be able to hold up against four different rushers for Arkansas?
The Nittany Lions will be without several key playmakers on Saturday. The young players will have to step up in a big way to help Penn State reach eight wins on the season. While the season didn’t go as planned for Penn State, getting a second win of the season against an SEC opponent and a January 1st bowl win would be a great highlight. Fans will also have the opportunity to watch several future playmakers.