TAMPA, Fla. — It took a while, but Arkansas won the Outback Bowl against Penn State the best way it knew how: running the ball. In front of a crowd of more than 46,000, No. 24 Arkansas defeated Penn State 24-10 on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.
Of Arkansas' 364 rushing yards, 256 came in the second half. It helped Arkansas to 17 unanswered points after being down by three at halftime. The Razorbacks (9-4) set a new program record for rushing yards in a bowl game and became No. 2 in Outback Bowl history in team rushing yards, behind only 2015 Wisconsin with 400.
Without its best players on both sides of the ball, Arkansas managed to adapt its approach and overwhelm Penn State (7-6), which had six players, five of them on defense, opt out.
Jefferson on the run
Quarterback KJ Jefferson's legs provided a boost to a struggling offense. In the first half, Arkansas ran for 105 yards, 30 of them on a team-leading 11 carries by Jefferson.
In the third quarter, Jefferson eclipsed 100 rushing yards, the first Arkansas quarterback to do so in a single game since Matt Jones in 2004. He finished with 110 rushing yards on 20 carries.
Failed trick plays
The first half ended with a series of unfortunate play calls. It started when Penn State, at the Arkansas 36-yard line, ran a failed fake punt. With great field position and the opportunity to score before getting the ball to start the second half, Arkansas took over.
All Arkansas needed to do was get into field goal position. Three points would tie the game at 10.
Instead, with 26 seconds left in the half, Arkansas went with a double pass. Jefferson pitched it to Warren Thompson, whose ensuing pass was picked off by Penn State's Ji'Ayir Brown. It was Brown's second interception of the game, and Arkansas went to the locker room down 10-7.
It was the sixth time an Arkansas wide receiver has thrown a pass this season, and just one of those has been a completion.
Raheim "Rocket" Sanders said earlier this week he would have more than a dozen family and friends attending the game from his native Rockledge, Florida, about two hours from Tampa.
The Sanders fan club saw a solid game from him at running back. Sanders scored Arkansas' only touchdown of the first half immediately after converting a fourth and short in the red zone.
In the first half, he became Arkansas' fourth player with at least 500 rushing yards along with Trelon Smith, Jefferson and Dominique Johnson. Arkansas hasn't had four players with that many since 1975 when Ike Forte, Jerry Eckwood, Rolland Fuchs and Scott Bull all ran for more than 500.
Receivers without Burks
Wide receiver Treylon Burks was sorely missed in Arkansas' passing game. Burks opted out early in the postseason to prepare for the NFL Draft. Coach Sam Pittman said it would take a lot of guys to replace Burks, and a lot of guys tried.
The typically balanced Arkansas offense had to adapt and tallied 90 receiving yards to 364 rushing. The passing game wasn't working like it did in the regular season, and Penn State's depleted defense was having more success in pass coverage than in stopping the run. Arkansas threw two first-half interceptions, including one by Jefferson that ended his streak of passes without a pick at 171.
Pittman said the Arkansas team that played in the Outback Bowl would be different than it was in the regular season, and when it came to offensive production, it certainly was.
This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: Arkansas football wins 2022 Outback Bowl vs. Penn State