Penn St. vs

Arkansas

at Tampa
Sat, Jan 1
ESPN2
9:00 AM Pacific
Rotation: 275
Odds: Arkansas -2.5, Total: 47

Game Analysis

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1-Star Best Bet – *Over (47) Penn State (+1/+1.5)  28   Arkansas  26

Both teams had their #1 receivers opt out to prepare for the NFL draft but the losses on defense, especially for Penn State, far outweigh the losses on offense for these teams.

The Arkansas attack will be without star WR Treylon Burks, who averaged an impressive 12.3 yards per target this season. The rest of the Arkansas wide-receivers combined for a mediocre 8.6 YPT and the difference equates to 0.8 yards per pass play and a bit more than 2 points per game, even for a Razorbacks’ offense that doesn’t throw the ball too often (just 26.8 pass plays per game). Arkansas is still a good offensive team without Burks, as they average 227 rushing yards at 5.5 yards per rushing play (against teams that would allow 4.9 yprp to an average team) while quarterback KJ Jefferson is projected to go from 1.7 yards per pass play better than average to +0.9 yppp.

Penn State’s defense was one of the best units in the nation, yielding just 16.8 points per game and just 4.6 yppl with starters in the game (against teams that would average 5.7 yppl against an average defense). However, four of the Nittany Lions top five defensive players have opted out of this game to prepare for the NFL draft process. The most notable absence is DE Arnold Ebiketie, who had 9.5 sacks and 18 total tackles for loss. No other player on Penn State’s defense has more than 2 sacks, so the Lions’ pass rush will likely be severely crippled. Penn State’s top two tacklers, linebackers Ellis Brooks and Brandon Smith, are also gone, as is safety Jaquan Brisker, who was the #4 tackler and had 7 passes defended (very good for a strong safety). Those 4 future NFL players combined for 21% of the team’s tackles, 60% of the team’s sacks, 44% of the team’s non-sack TFL, and 24% of the passes defended. That’s an enormous amount of production lost and most of it is not replaceable (particularly Ebiketie’s contributions). Penn State is still likely to be solid defensively, as I still rate that unit at 0.5 yppl better than average with current personnel, but Arkansas’ offense is similarly rated and is projected to gain 415 yards at 5.7 yppl.

Penn State’s offense was only 0.1 yppl better than average with quarterback Sean Clifford in the game (excluding the brief appearance while playing injured against Rutgers) and losing top receiver Jahan Dotson isn’t that damaging. Dotson averaged a modest 8.4 yards per target while the rest of the Lions’ wide receivers combined to average 8.3 YPT. I still docked the team 0.3 yards per pass play because Dotson faced more double-teams than the rest of the receivers and would have averaged more per target if he weren’t the focus of opposing defenses.

Arkansas started the season very strong defensively but the season-ending injury to All-American S Jalen Catalon allowed opposing quarterbacks to beat the Razorbacks deep and Arkansas went from being very good defending the pass to 0.8 yards per pass play worse than average in their final 6 games. I rated the pass defense as 0.5 yppp worse than average without Catalon to account for some variance but Arkansas is certainly not as good defensively now as their season rating of 0.5 yards per play better than average on that side of the ball. Not only is Catalon still out but DE Tre Williams has opted out and his 6 sacks in 11 games against FBS opponents was twice as many as any other defender on the team. I rate Arkansas’ defense at just 0.1 yppl better than average heading into this game, and the lack of a pass rush and questionable safety play is likely to be an issue against an experienced quarterback. Penn State is projected to gain 406 yards at 5.7 yppl.

Both of these teams run their offense at a faster than average pace and 144 plays are expected at the national average of 5.7 yppl (excluding kneel downs and spikes). The national average for points is 54 points and these teams are expected to run about 10 plays more than average at an average yards per play number. Getting to 50 points or more should be expected and I think the total on this game is too low because the market didn’t adjust enough for Penn State’s defensive attrition and because the Nittany Lions’ average total points per game was much lower than it should have been based on their stats.

Penn State’s games averaged 736 total yards on 142.2 plays (excluding kneel downs and spikes) in regulation time this season, which would project to 49.4 total points per game. Penn State’s games averaged just 41.5 total points per game. Some of the difference can be explained by special teams, as the Lions have a great punter and good kickoff coverage while not being good in the return game. Past special teams performance is not 100% predictive of future special teams value but even if it were the Penn State games would be projected to average 45.3 total points in regulation. That’s still 3.8 points more than what was actually scored. The difference is close to the value of the redzone scoring variance in Penn State’s games.

The Nittany Lions averaged just 4.5 points per redzone opportunity on offense, which is 0.4 PPRZ less than expected from a team with their offensive metrics, and the defense allowed just 3.4 PPRZ, which is extremely low – even for their level of defense. The 5 teams rated ahead of Penn State in my defensive ratings (Georgia, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Alabama and Clemson) combined for 4.0 points per redzone opportunity allowed and Penn State’s metrics would project 4.2 PPRZ allowed. It’s highly likely that Penn State will allow what is expected in the redzone without 4 of their top 5 defensive players, including both run-stuffing linebackers. If Penn State’s offensive and defensive redzone efficiencies had been what was projected based on their stats there would have been 4.0 points per game more scoring in their games. I think that’s pure line value that’s not being accounted for in the total on this game, as before any adjustments were made my math would have projected 51.1 points, which is 4.3 points higher than the compensated points model projection of 46.8 total points (the difference being mostly explained by the redzone variance). The defensive adjustments are more than the offensive adjustment in this game, and I project a total of 54.2 total points (and Penn State by 2.0 points), even if I assume the worst weather projected for that day in Tampa (13 mph winds). The Over is a 1-Star Best Bet at 48 points or less and a Strong opinion at 48.5 points.

  • Team Stats
  • Game Log
  • Penn St.
  • Arkansas
PNST
Offense
Defense

Rush

  • Run Plays 30.8 36.1
  • Run Yards 126.8 149.0
  • YPRP 4.1 4.1




Pass





  • Pass Comp 23.6 20.3
  • Pass Att 37.5 34.8
  • Comp % 62.9% 58.1%
  • Pass Yards 279.1 200.2
  • Sacks 2.8 1.8
  • Sack Yards 16.6 13.8
  • Sack % 7.0% 5.0%
  • Pass Plays 40.3 36.7
  • Net Pass Yards 262.5 186.4
  • YPPP 6.5 5.1

Total

  • Total Plays 71.1 72.8
  • Total Yards 389.3 335.4
  • YPPL 5.5 4.6

TO


  • Int 0.7 1.0
  • Int % 1.8% 2.9%
  • Fumbles 0.4 0.6
  • Turnovers 1.1 1.6
 
  • Points 26.3 16.8
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