TAMPA, Fla. — A double feature played Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.
Penn State showed the crowd of 46,577 a preview of its 2022 defense and, unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, a review of their 2021 offense.
No. 21 Arkansas held Penn State scoreless in the second half and to one touchdown overall in a 24-10 victory in the Outback Bowl, sending the Lions (7-6) to their sixth loss in eight games.
Playing without All-Big Ten receiver Jahan Dotson, Penn State gained just 94 yards and went scoreless in the second half after holding a 10-7 halftime lead.
It was the Lions’ season low in points and the 10th time in 13 games they failed to score at least 30 points.
“We had a couple big plays in the first half, but we weren’t consistent enough,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “We had some opportunities in the second half and dropped some balls. They (Arkansas) did a good job being extremely aggressive.
“We needed to run the ball more consistently. There’s no doubt about that. We can’t go away from it.”
The Lions finished with 125 rushing yards, but 46 of them came on Sean Clifford’s scrambles. Clifford completed just 14-of-32 passes for 195 yards and one touchdown, a 42-yarder to a wide-open KeAndre Lambert-Smith in the second quarter. He also threw two interceptions, one into the end zone.
Clifford went to the locker room in the middle of the fourth quarter and never returned. He was not available for postgame interviews.
“The medical staff brought Sean out of the game,” Franklin said. “I thought he played gutsy. I thought he battled. He made some plays, but there were also some plays I know he would like to have back.”
On defense, the Lions played several new faces and moved some old ones to new positions after five starters opted out of the game and one starter, cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields, watched the game in shorts.
Penn State held Arkansas (9-4) to seven points in the first half, sacked quarterback K.J. Jefferson five times, intercepted two of his passes and forced a fumble.
Then the Razorbacks, who ranked 12th nationally in rushing, finally decided to do what they do best and stayed on the ground. They rushed for 171 yards in the third quarter, scored 17 points and threw only three passes.
Jefferson carried seven times for 102 yards and one touchdown in the third quarter alone. He finished with 110 yards on 20 carries, threw for 90 yards and was named the game MVP.
“I told them at half there was no way we could have played an uglier first half,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said. “It’s got to get better. We had to change what we were doing running the football.
“They were blitzing over there, so we wanted to run some type of inside zone.”
Arkansas finished with 361 rushing yards against Penn State’s thin defense on a hot Florida afternoon. Raheim Sanders’ 1-yard touchdown run late in the third gave the Razorbacks a 14-point lead, which was all they needed against a stagnant Lions offense.
“Hats off to them,” said Penn State defensive end Nick Tarburton, who had seven tackles and a sack. “They ran a great scheme. At times we didn’t have the edges and that kind of hurt us. The zone read ultimately hurt us.
“Their tempo was pretty impressive, too. We were on the field a pretty good bit. As soon as they snapped the ball, they were right back on it.”
Penn State did receive strong performances from several players on defense. Smith Vilbert tied an Outback Bowl record with three sacks in his first career start at end; Curtis Jacobs made a game-high 10 tackles after he moved to weak-side linebacker from the strong side; and safety Ji’Ayir Brown had six tackles and two interceptions.
The defense also played without Brent Pry, its coordinator, who left Penn State in December to become head coach at Virginia Tech.
“I’m incredibly proud with how we played today,” Jacobs said. “We were obviously short-handed. We had some changes, coaching changes. My guys went out and battled.”
The offense was another story. Outside the second quarter, when the Lions gained 172 yards while mixing the run with the pass, they sputtered. Their inconsistency on offense was a common theme throughout the season.
Dotson had made spectacular plays to lift Penn State many times. Parker Washington and Lambert-Smith each had eight catches Saturday, but it wasn’t enough.
“It’s frustrating, but you can’t look at it like that,” Lambert-Smith said. “We have to look at the film, be ready to hit the offseason and limit the mistakes and the plays we didn’t execute so that we can go out and play our best (next year).”
Source: Berkshire mont