Behind Enemy Lines: Razorbacks Wire editor shares insight on Outback Bowl opponent

·4 min read

Penn State is set to meet Arkansas for the first time in the 2022 Outback Bowl on Saturday. And while the Nittany Lions are looking to plug a bunch of holes on the roster due to NFL opt-outs, they are also preparing to face an Arkansas team that has had a surprisingly successful season, one that saw the upstart program give Alabama a little bit of a challenge but also saw them get steamrolled by Georgia.

To help us get a better understanding of this week’s opponent to close out the 2021 season, we got together with Eric Bolin, editor of Razorbacks Wire. Bolin was kind enough to answer some questions about Arkansas for us for the final edition of Behind Enemy Lines for the year.

Nittany Lions Wire: With Treylon Burks opting out, how will the receivers look for the Razorbacks? Who is the go-to receiver?

Eric Bolin: Arkansas doesn’t have a go-to receiver anymore. At all. It’s the biggest question mark on the team for this game, too. Tyson Morris (pictured below) is the leader in receptions, yards and touchdowns, but those totals are 21, 303 and two. Not exactly scary. That doesn’t mean the receiving corps is bad, per se – Arkansas is definitely more of a running team, anyway – but it isn’t nearly as dynamic without Burks.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

NLW: Glancing at some quick numbers, is it fair to suggest Arkansas struggles against the run?

Eric: Yes and no. They’re a group that held Alabama to 112 yards rushing. Eight of the team’s 12 opponents had less than 150 yards and while that isn’t an incredible mark, 150 yards given up a game would be right in the middle of FBS. What Arkansas struggles to do is stop the big play on the ground. Ole Miss, Georgia and even Missouri lit the Razorbacks at times with big plays, skewing the numbers.

NEXT: What has been the biggest reason for the success of Arkansas in 2021?

NLW: What has been the biggest reason for the success of Arkansas this season?

Eric: The development of KJ Jefferson is something no one saw coming so quickly. He was terrible throwing the ball in the season opener against Rice. It was only one game, one half of one game, really, but Jefferson was supposed to be Arkansas’ “It” quarterback. Lo and behold, he finishes with the second best completion percentage in school history and runs for almost 600 yards to boot. He’s not a Heisman guy, nor should he be, but he’s awfully good.

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NLW: What is the biggest area of concern for Arkansas in this matchup?

Eric: If Penn State’s defense is on its A-game, Arkansas could have trouble moving the ball. The loss of Burks just limits what they can do offensively. Jefferson and the running backs are good players, but if Tyson Morris or Warren Thompson or any of the other wide receivers are posing much of a threat, the Nittany Lions could pack it in and slow things down.

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NLW: What is the key to a victory for Arkansas?

Eric: Don’t change. The year was Arkansas’ best since 2011 and even though the best player – by far – is gone and the complexion of the offense is altered, Arkansas has to play through Jefferson, anyway. Forcing something that’s no longer there isn’t going to work.

NLW: Feel free to share any game prediction you may have.

Eric: I had Penn State by a touchdown or more when the game was first announced. But given all the opt-outs and injuries, the game is a total toss-up now, I think. I’ll say Arkansas just because, but my confidence in that pick is negligible.

Our thanks to Eric Bolin for shedding some light on this week’s opponent in the Outback Bowl. For continuing coverage of all things Arkansas, check out Razorbacks Wire.

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