TAMPA, FL. – A warm afternoon greeted Penn State and Arkansas fans ringing in 2022 at the Outback Bowl on Saturday.
It was the culmination of a wonderful week in which Mother Nature shined brightly on those who arrived in Tampa to partake of the many activities associated with the bowl, and did so in temperatures that reached the 80s
The 46,577 assembled at Raymond James Stadium for the 36th playing of the bowl, and 27th with Outback as the title sponsor, saw Arkansas prevail, 24-10, in a game that in the first half looked like schoolyard ball at times.
For the Razorbacks, the difference was a dominating third quarter. After trailing at the half, 10-7, they embarked on three third-quarter drives that resulted in 17 points to take a 24-10 lead. In doing so, they piled up 200 yards in the quarter with 176 coming on the ground.
“Very proud of our players, the way they competed,” said Arkansas coach Sam Pittman, whose team finished 9-4. “I told them at the half, that there is no way we could have played an uglier first half. So, look on the bright side. It has to get better.”
It did. Adjustments were made and quarterback K.J. Jefferson had 102 yards rushing in the third quarter with eight coming on a touchdown that capped the opening drive of the half. When Jefferson was shaken up a bit after being tackled during the Hogs’ third possession, Malik Hornsby came on and had a 32-yard run that set up Arkansas’ second TD of the quarter that provided the final 14-point margin.
Jefferson, who had 110 yards rushing and completed 14 of 19 passes for 90 yards, was named the game’s MVP. In the days leading up to the game, the redshirt sophomore talked about how great it would be to win the award.
“It was surreal, to way ahead of time say that I wanted to win the MVP trophy, and to actually win it,” he said, when asked about holding up the MVP trophy during the on-field ceremony and turning around on the stage to face the direction of his family and Razorbacks’ fans. “Anybody could have won the trophy and they end up giving it to me. Turning around (on the stage) to show it to my family supporting me. They drove all the way down (from Mississippi) instead of flying. Shows a lot about my support system, and the fans.”
The Arkansas defense did the rest, including an interception by safety Joe Foucha in the end zone to terminate a Penn State (7-6) drive early in the fourth quarter.
There were many bizarre plays during a head-scratching first half. At one point late in the half, and in the space of five plays, Penn State punter Jordan Stout threw a desperation heave up for grabs that fell incomplete in the end zone. That gave Arkansas the ball at their 36 with 45 seconds remaining. Four plays later and with the Razorbacks driving for at least a game-tying field goal, Arkansas attempted a little trickery that backfired. Jefferson lateraled to receiver Warren Thompson, whose pass was intercepted by Penn State’s Ji’Ayir Brown at the 18.
At that point, the always-delicious Outback Steakhouse chicken, beef, and mashed potatoes served in the press box was by far the highlight of the first half.
The second half, though, belonged to the Razorbacks, who ran it at the Nittany Lions’ defense to take charge and win the first-ever meeting between the schools.
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