HOGS wary of Penn St. D; Notes
FAYETTEVILLE - Some may see Arkansas facing a depleted Penn State defense in Saturday’s Outback Bowl.
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson doesn’t see it that way. ESPN2 plans to televise the game at 11 a.m.
Following Tuesdays practice in Tampa, Jefferson was asked about Penn State’s defense, which lost starting safety Jaquan Brisker upon his decision to withdraw from the game and concentrate on the NFL Combine and draft. The Nittany Lions’ defense already has lost starting linebackers Brandon Smith and Ellis Brooks, opting to skip the bowl and prepare for NFL Combine and draft.
Jefferson knows Arkansas will try to replace leading receiver Treylon Burks (declaring for the NFL draft), defensive end and team pass-rush leader Tre Williams (also NFL draft declared) and kickoff man Vito Calvaruso, transferring to Wisconsin.
“I know about Penn State being a premier football program,” Jefferson said. “I know those guys have athletes just like we have. I’m pretty sure they have guys who can step in and make plays for them as well.”
FOUR WEEKS MENDED
Upon Saturday’s kickoff, the focus shifts from those not playing in the game to those who are.
Most of those playing in all bowl games will arrive their healthiest since the season opener.
“I’ve been battling with my knee all season now,” Jefferson said. “But the break we got before we came here, I felt pretty good relaxing and not putting too much stress on it. I’m still getting treatment and making sure my body is 100 percent healthy.”
Four weeks won't completely heal the aches of a 12-game season.
“I can tell you right now that after four weeks no one is one hundred percent healthy,” Arkansas sixth-year senior middle linebacker Grant Morgan said after Tuesday’s practice. “Every single person is fighting injury, but we don’t care. We’re one hundred percent ready to go play as hard as we can.”
And Morgan is healthier in late December than he was finishing November.
“It has been good to not have to wear an elbow brace or a knee brace because it’s annoying,” Morgan said.“I finally feel really good, so I’m excited for this game to do the things we want to do because we’re good at it, not because that’s what we have to do because we’re limited in a certain way.”
DOTSON OUT BUT THREATS REMAIN
Penn State will be without its best receiver. Jahan Dotson, 91 catches for 1,182 yards and 12 touchdowns, on Monday declared for the draft and withdrew from the bowl game.
Morgan said Coach James Franklin’s Nittany Lions have unique ways of compensating.
“I think the one thing that stands out for them is they have three really good tight ends,” Morgan said. “They find ways to get their personnel for different mismatches against the defenses they’ve played against. So, we’ve got to be able to find personnel to match it, fit it and go stop it.”
Morgan expects Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford to adapt with wideout Parker Washington stepping up.
“Sean Clifford makes plays,” Morgan said. “He’s a good quarterback and knows how to make the play continue a little bit longer or he can just put it in a spot where his receivers can go get it. Their receivers are good. No. 3 (Washington) is probably going to step up and have a good game. They have really good athletes.”
CLOSE THE COASTERS
Wednesday’s non-football activities for the Razorbacks include going to the Busch Gardens.
As a 6-2, 245- pound bruiser, Jefferson has established a fearless reputation for running over would-be tacklers.
He wasn’t so fearless regarding the Busch Garden’s rollercoasters which Morgan wants to ride.
“I’m not!” Jefferson responded. “I’m not! I might ride one ride but no big roller coaster.”