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Arkansas vs. Penn State Odds and Picks for Outback Bowl: Why to Bet the Razorbacks

Arkansas vs. Penn State Odds and Picks for Outback Bowl: Why to Bet the Razorbacks article feature image
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Wesley Hitt/Getty Images. Pictured: KJ Jefferson.

Arkansas vs. Penn State Odds

Saturday, Jan. 1
12 p.m. ET
ESPN2
Arkansas Odds
Spread Total Moneyline
-3
-115
49
-105o / -115u
-155
Penn State Odds
Spread Total Moneyline
+3
-105
49
-105o / -115u
+135
Odds via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute college football odds here.

After two seasons of no conference wins under Chad Morris, the Sam Pittman era may be the greatest Arkansas tenure since Frank Broyles roamed the sidelines for a 1964 National Championship.

The former offensive line coach missed out on the Texas Bowl last season with a COVID-19 cancellation, making the Outback Bowl the first bowl game for Pittman and this group of upperclassmen.

The Razorbacks have posted a 14-7-1 against-the-spread mark over the past two seasons, becoming one of the more profitable teams in college football.

Penn State held onto James Franklin after he had rumored interest in the LSU and USC jobs. The hiring of offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich did wonders at the quarterback position this season, while defensive coordinator Brent Pry has left the program to take the head coaching position at Virginia Tech.

The Nittany Lions failed to win the Big Ten East, as injuries played a role on both sides of the ball through conference play. Opt-outs are the biggest handicap for Penn State heading into New Years Day during a bowl season in which SEC teams have struggled.


Arkansas Razorbacks

The Razorbacks landed in Tampa without star wide receivers Treylon Burks, who opted out for the NFL draft.

While that was a known factor for weeks, wide receiver Tyson Morris was also missing from the team flight. After Burks, no other player accounted for more than 33 targets from quarterback KJ Jefferson.

Morris had 30 on the season and will have a chance to join the Hogs if a suspected COVID-19 situation clears up.

Even without Morris, this is a run-first offense under coordinator Kendal Briles.

A very official touchdown pic.twitter.com/vbPNehfgQN

— Arkansas Razorback Football (@RazorbackFB) November 26, 2021

Only one time in Razorback history has the program fielded four players with 500 rushing yards. If both Raheim Sanders and Dominique Johnson gain two yards, history will have been made for the Hogs.

The offensive line has led the way to a top-25 rank in Rushing Success Rate, with a run rate of 64%.

The key to beating the Hogs in the Outback Bowl is to put pressure on Jefferson on passing downs. Of the seven turnover-worthy plays this season, five of them have come when opposing defenses blitz.

With the Burks opt-out, Jefferson must look to less comfortable targets to move the chains.

The Arkansas defense specializes in preventing the big play and tightening up when opponents hit scoring position. The Razorbacks are fourth in passing downs Success Rate on defense, complimented with a top-25 rank in Finishing Drives.

The front seven for coordinator Barry Odom showed massive improvement thanks to the transfer portal additions of John Ridgeway and Tre Williams. The Hogs will be without their leader in the pressure department with Williams opting out following a DUI arrest.

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Penn State Nittany Lions

The 2022 season starts in the Outback Bowl for the Nittany Lions after a number of opt-outs for the NFL Draft. New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will get a look at fresh faces, as three key starters will be missing from the bowl.

Linebackers Brandon Smith and Ellis Brooks declared after the regular season, taking away the top two tacklers on the defense. This week, one of the highest-rated safeties in the nation in Jaquan Brisker announced he will opt out of the bowl game.

Those three players account for 191 tackles, a 31% departure from Penn State’s total tackles.

The biggest loss for the Outback Bowl may be on the offensive side, as Jahan Dotson declared for the NFL Draft and opted to sit out. There may be no offense that is more dependent on an offensive player than Penn State with Dotson, who accumulated 138 pass targets.

Quarterback Sean Clifford improved under Yurcich, posting 20 big-time throws, equaling his full total from the previous three seasons.

The offense finished bottom-five in Rushing Success Rate and outside the top 100 in standard downs Success Rate.

Without Dotson, the first half of the bowl will be a search by Clifford to find a playmaker to collect available yards.

Michigan’s pass rush made life miserable for Sean Clifford #GoBlue pic.twitter.com/3aOAWXFHrO

— Clayton Sayfie (@CSayf23) November 14, 2021


Arkansas vs. Penn State Matchup Analysis

Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how Arkansas and Penn State match up statistically:

Arkansas Offense vs. Penn State Defense
Offense
Defense
Edge
Rush Success 24 41
Line Yards 40 39
Pass Success 47 22
Pass Blocking** 41 53
Big Play 13 26
Havoc 89 57
Finishing Drives 92 4
** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)

Penn State Offense vs. Arkansas Defense
Offense
Defense
Edge
Rush Success 127 46
Line Yards 126 36
Pass Success 32 45
Pass Blocking** 68 56
Big Play 78 34
Havoc 91 75
Finishing Drives 87 21
** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)

Pace of Play / Other
PFF Tackling 48 56
Coverage 71 8
Middle 8 36 49
SP+ Special Teams 39 29
Plays per Minute 34 13
Rush Rate 64.3% (11) 47.6% (112)

Data via College Football Data, FootballOutsiders, SP+, PFF and SportSource Analytics.


Arkansas vs. Penn State Betting Pick

Take out the number of starters that have decided to sit the bowl out, and there is still one persistent issue with Penn State.

The loss of PJ Mustipher on the defensive interior allowed Big Ten opponents to run without resistance between the tackles. Illinois ran for over 350 yards directly after the injury before the Nittany Lions’ Stuff Rate declined in losses to Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State.

Arkansas has been given a month to get healthy between a trio of 500-yard running backs. More importantly, the Razorbacks have four individual offensive linemen ranked in the top 150 in rush blocking, per PFF.

Penn State fell outside the top 50 in tackling, a reflection of coaching. Without Pry to prepare the defense, taking down Jefferson on run-pass option attempts will require more than arm tackles.

👀🏆🏆🏆 pic.twitter.com/NTmqLg7jaL

— Arkansas Football Recruiting (@RazorbackFBRec) December 4, 2021

There may not be a more motivated team in bowl season than Arkansas, as a number of seniors will play their last game after going through three different head coaches.

Pittman has made it clear that this is trophy hunting season, winning the Boot versus LSU, Battle Line against Missouri and the Southwest Classic against Texas A&M. The Outback Bowl will be decided in the trench, and that leans heavily toward Arkansas.

Our Action Network projection is at Arkansas -1.5, as the market has gravitated from an opener of +4 after the announcements of Penn State opt-outs.

The total is projected at 49, lending small value to the over. With starters out on both defenses, points will go up after the initial few series for this early New Year’s Day kick.

Look for a live over at the key numbers of 44 and 48 in the first half, while taking the Razorbacks pregame.

Pick: Arkansas -1 or Better

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