Razorbacks Win Outback Bowl!

The New Year’s Day game turned out to be a culmination of 2021 Razorback football. We were treated to a little bit of everything. K.J. Jefferson was a bit inconsistent throwing the ball. The Arkansas running attack dominated. The Razorback defense bent but didn’t break. Finally, the Sam Pittman effect was felt, especially in the second half.

The start of the Razorback’s Outback Bowl experience was rather uninspiring. They looked like it had been four weeks since they played a meaningful football game. As usual, the defense was ahead of the offense and they forced two punts, snagged an interception, and forced a missed field goal in the first quarter. However, Penn State has a talented roster of players on offense, especially at the wide receiver position. They scored their only touchdown of the game at the beginning of the second quarter. They had to be frustrated because the Razorbacks defense performed as they have performed all year. Teams can move the ball between the twenties on them, but it is very difficult to score. Overall, the Defense held the high-flying Penn State offense to a mere ten points. To put an explanation, point on the defensive effort, one only has to turn to the beginning of the fourth quarter. The score was 24 to 10. Penn State had driven the ball 65 yards to the Arkansas 10-yard line. On first and goal, Joe Foucha picks off the Penn State quarterback in the endzone. If Penn State was going to get back in the game, they needed a touchdown during that possession while they were only 10 yards away from glory. Arkansas denied them their opportunity.

The Arkansas offensive effort can best be described as the tale of two halves. In the first half, Coach Briles tried every trick play in the book. He dialed up ineffective pass plays and K.J. Jefferson suffered. The Arkansas signal caller seemed uncomfortable. He was rusty. He never really achieved a game rhythm throwing the ball. In fact, Jefferson only attempted four passes in the second half, completing three of them. The Razorback offense missed the leadership of Treylon Burks. Unfortunately, the highly talented Warren Thompson had a few mental errors. During his one reception, he gave up a much needed first down conversion to get more yards, not realizing where he was at on the field. Then, during a trick play he blindly threw the ball into coverage, suffering an avoidable interception. I am sure the coaching staff will work with him in the off season to correct these obvious and avoidable mental errors.

The offense line coach in Sam Pittman had to be grinding his teeth into fine dust during the first half of the game. Everyone could see that Arkansas was much more talented and physical than Penn State. Yet, mental errors in the passing game were holding the Razorback’s down. During half time, I visualized Coach Pittman holding Coach Briles by the scruff of his neck, yelling in his face “RUN THE DAMN BALL!” Coach Pittman is too soft spoken for that. In fact, his philosophy is that the loudest the coaches should be is when the players are doing well. In any case, he clearly sent a defined message to his staff and his players that they were going to run the ball in the second half. Their efforts were rewarded with three scoring drives and a total of 353 yards rushing for the game. K.J. Jefferson amassed 110 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown by the time the game was over. Raheim Sanders led the platoon of running backs with 79 yards, and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Dominique Johnson averaged seven yards a carry, earning 77 yards on 11 carries. Not one pass was thrown during both Razorbacks touchdown drives in the second half. Arkansas was physical, controlled the clock and ultimately wore the Nittany Lions out. That is how they should have started the game. When it comes down to it, football is about blocking and tackling and that is what Arkansas does well. Coach Pittman reminded his team of those simple concepts at half time.

It was the first time in ten years that the Razorbacks put together a nine-win season. It’s an outstanding start to Coach Pittman’s tenure as the head coach at Arkansas. Though they are losing some key defenders, Arkansas is already reloading. Winning the Outback Bowl will do wonders for their recruiting. We have a lot to look forward to next year. For now, it’s time to TURN THAT DAMN JUKE BOX ON!

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