Arkansas football vs. Penn State in the Outback Bowl: Score prediction, scouting report

·3 min read

For the first time in program history, No. 24 Arkansas will meet Penn State at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, for the Outback Bowl. The New Year's Day matchup (11 a.m. CT, ESPN2) is Arkansas' first Bowl appearance since the 2016 Belk Bowl and its first Florida bowl game since the 2007 Capital One Bowl.

Here is a look at how Arkansas (8-4) matches up against Penn State (7-5).

BOWL TRIP: Arkansas football headed to Outback Bowl to play Penn State

Penn State passing game

Penn State relies mostly on its passing offense. Almost 70% of its offensive touchdowns have come through the air.

Quarterback Sean Clifford, a redshirt senior, had one of his best games against Auburn in Week 3, completing 87% of his passes and leading Penn State in a 28-20 win over the Tigers.

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Clifford's favorite target has been senior wideout Jahan Dotson, whose 98.5 receiving yards per game make him No. 15 in the country and No. 3 in the Big Ten. Arkansas star Treylon Burks comes in at No. 22 nationally with 92.0 receiving yards per game.

Arkansas pass defense allows about 215 yards per game, fifth-fewest in the Southeastern Conference, but will need a strong outing in Tampa to contain Clifford and Dotson.

Strong scoring defense

The Nittany Lions rank third in the Big Ten in scoring defense, allowing just 16.8 points per game.

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Senior linebacker Ellis Brooks, not to be confused with former Arkansas linebacker Brooks Ellis, has been a leader in the middle of the Penn State defense. He ranks fifth in the Big Ten in tackles with 100.

Defensive end Arnold Ebiketie is Penn State's major defensive weapon, however, and was one of just two Nittany Lions to make the Big Ten's first team all-conference lineup. His 9.5 sacks make him No. 3 in the conference, and he leads the Big Ten in tackles for loss with 18.

Underperformance

Penn State and Arkansas are programs on very different trajectories. While Arkansas had a season better than what many expected, Penn State came in at No. 20 in the preseason and finished unranked.

Early wins over No. 15 Wisconsin and No. 20 Auburn propelled Penn State as high as No. 4 at the start of October. Then, Penn State lost three straight to No. 3 Iowa, Illinois and No. 5 Ohio State. The Illinois loss was particularly damning, as it took nine overtimes before the Illini finished off Penn State.

The Nittany Lions bounced back somewhat, winning two of their last four against Maryland and Rutgers.

Just before Thanksgiving, Penn State coach James Franklin, whose name had come up in rumors swirling around LSU's and Southern California's coaching searches, signed a 10-year, $75 million contract extension.

Score prediction

Arkansas 28, Penn State 21: These two teams match up well, but if Arkansas' pass defense can cool the connection between Clifford and Dotson, KJ Jefferson's physicality and evasiveness and Burks' speed should give Arkansas the edge. Arkansas is trending up, and it should beat a Penn State team that is tired from an underwhelming year.

Christina Long covers the Arkansas Razorbacks. You can email her at clong@swtimes.com or follow her on Twitter @christinalong00.

This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: Outback Bowl: Arkansas vs. Penn State score prediction, scouting report

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