No letdowns. No disappointments. No mercy.
Arkansas’ turnaround is complete and official. The Razorbacks’ 24-10 victory over Penn State on Saturday, New Year’s Day, in the Outback Bowl was the exclamation point to a 9-4 season and laid to rest memories of the last five seasons.
Coach Sam Pittman, in his second year at the helm, led Arkansas to a nine-win season for just fourth time in the last 18 years. The bowl win was Arkansas’ first since beating Kansas State in the 2016 Liberty Bowl at the end of the 2015 season.
The man on the field who led it was the one expected. Quarterback KJ Jefferson ran for 110 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries and completed 14 of 19 passes for 90 yards.
Jefferson was in his first year as starter. For the season he ran for 664 yards and six scores. He threw for 2,668 yards with 21 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Jefferson is likely to be a preseason All-SEC pick going into 2022.
He was helped Saturday by his stable of runners. Dominique Johnson ran for 85 yards on 11 carries. Rocket Sanders had 79 yards and two scores on 13 carries. And back-up quarterback Malik Hornsby, who entered for a short series when Jefferson was banged up after a big ran, had a 34-yard run that set up Sanders’ second touchdown of the game in the third quarter.
Trailing by 14 points in the fourth quarter, Penn State had an opportunity to make it a one-score game with the ball on the Arkansas 10 and a first down. But Sean Clifford’s pass to the back right corner of the end zone was intercepted by Joe Foucha.
Sanders scored the game’s first touchdown with a run at the end of the first quarter. Penn State countered with a touchdown and field goal in the second before Jefferson went in from eight yards in the third to put Arkansas ahead for good.
The win was Arkansas’ first on New Year’s Day since beating Texas in the 2000 Cotton Bowl.