KJ Jefferson, Arkansas Run for 353 Yards in 2022 Outback Bowl Win over Penn State

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 1, 2022

Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson (1) eludes Penn State linebacker Curtis Jacobs (23) during the first half of the Outback Bowl NCAA college football game Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

Arkansas scored a 24-10 victory over Penn State in the 2022 Outback Bowl on New Year's Day at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.

The Razorbacks (9-4) staged a three-act season: a 4-0 start highlighted by an upset of Texas A&M, a three-game losing streak and a 5-1 finish with the sole loss coming to College Football playoff finalist Alabama. The bowl triumph caps a strong year for the Hogs.

The Nittany Lions (7-6) reached as high as No. 4 in the rankings following a 5-0 start that featured two wins over ranked opponents, Wisconsin and Auburn. They lost five of their last seven games during the regular season and failed to bounce back in the bowl game, though.

Notable Stats

QB KJ Jefferson (ARK): 14 of 19, 98 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT; 110 rushing yards, 1 TD

QB Sean Clifford (PSU): 14 of 32, 195 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT

RB Raheim Sanders (ARK): 79 rushing yards, 2 TD

RB Dominique Johnson (ARK): 77 rushing yards

WR Parker Washington (PSU): 98 receiving yards

WR KeAndre Lambert-Smith (PSU): 74 receiving yards, 1 TD

DB Ji'Ayir Brown (PSU): 2 interceptions

Future of Arkansas Rushing Attack on Full Display in Second Half

After a lackluster seven-point first half, the Razorbacks came out of halftime with a clear intent: start controlling the game with their ground game. The strategy worked as the Hogs outscored the Nittany Lions 17-0 in the third quarter.

Here's the play breakdown of their three scoring drives in the third:

  • Touchdown: 7 runs, 0 passes (75 yards)
  • Field Goal: 6 runs, 3 passes (45 yards)
  • Touchdown: 4 runs, 0 passes (79 yards)

Penn State had no answer for the trio of Jefferson, Johnson and Sanders, all of whom were able to consistently find holes in the PSU front seven.

Razorback Communications @RazorbackComms

QB KJ Jefferson is the first Arkansas signal-caller to run for 100 yards in a game since QB Matt Jones in 2004. <a href="https://t.co/gTJzvda17j">pic.twitter.com/gTJzvda17j</a>

Those three key members of the offense are all slated to return in 2022, and the rushing attack figures to remain a focal point when the new season gets underway.

Arkansas already featured a run-heavy approach in 2021—530 rushing attempts compared to 294 passing attempts entering the bowl game—and their leading receiver, Treylon Burks, declared for the NFL draft, creating another void in that sector of the offense.

Arkansas Razorback Football @RazorbackFB

In there like swimwear <a href="https://t.co/jkncYcC0nB">pic.twitter.com/jkncYcC0nB</a>

Backup quarterback Malik Hornsby also showed off impressive speed in limited snaps Saturday and could become a bigger factor in select packages as a redshirt sophomore.

If the Hogs' offensive line can dominate at the line of scrimmage like it did in the third quarter of the bowl game next season, they're capable of making some serious noise in the SEC.

PSU's Parker Washington Shows Potential with Highlight-Reel Day

Jahan Dotson, Penn State's leading receiver during the regular season, opted out of the bowl game to begin preparations for the 2022 NFL draft. Both Washington and Lambert-Smith took advantage of the opportunity to play a larger role, but it was the nature of Washington's plays that made him stand out.

The sophomore wideout showed off his speed on the opening drive as he got behind the Arkansas secondary and made a nice over-the-shoulder catch for a 42-yard gain:

✯✯✯✯✯ @FTB_Vids_YT

Sean Clifford DIME ➡️ Parker Washington for 42 yards! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PennState?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PennState</a> <a href="https://t.co/NF2sSNvavA">pic.twitter.com/NF2sSNvavA</a>

He then made a terrific twisting, one-handed grab early in the second quarter:

ESPN @espn

THIS ONE-HANDED CATCH BY PARKER WASHINGTON 🤯 <a href="https://t.co/7qPlwwyDcX">pic.twitter.com/7qPlwwyDcX</a>

Washington has all the tools to become the nation's top slot receiver in 2022. What he lacks in size at 5'10'', he more than makes up for with a second gear when running deep routes, small-area quickness and great hands that were on full display with that one-handed catch.

The former 4-star prospect also has a well-built frame at 207 pounds, which should help alleviate any potential durability concerns over his remaining time at PSU or heading toward the NFL.

While there's always concern about how the departure of a player like Dotson, who could land in the first round of the NFL draft, will impact the offense, Saturday's game showed the Nittany Lions' receiver room should be in fine shape with Washington and Lambert-Smith leading the way.

With Clifford also set to return in 2022, the Penn State passing game should benefit from plenty of continuity when next season gets underway.

What's Next?

Penn State is scheduled to open the 2022 season on Sept. 3 when it visits Ross-Ade Stadium to take on Purdue in a Big Ten clash.

Arkansas will also kick off the new campaign on Sept. 3 when it welcomes Cincinnati, one of this year's College Football Playoff semifinalists, to Razorback Stadium.