There is no question that Penn State’s defense has been hit hard to early NFL departures heading into this weekend’s Outback Bowl matchup with Arkansas. The Nittany Lions are down four key starters on the defensive side of the football due to NFL declarations, but Anthony Poindexter says that will not be an excuse for the defense against the Razorbacks.
“Everybody wants to play,” Poindexter said when meeting with the media after practice in Tampa on Tuesday (according to Blue White Illustrated). “A lot of guys who probably didn’t play as much as they wanted to in the regular season, here’s their chance to play. We got a standard for how we play defense here, and we expect them to play the way we’re used to playing.”
Poindexter, Penn State’s safeties coach, will be taking on the play-calling duties for the defense in the Outback Bowl. James Franklin confirmed Poindexter will be leading the defense following the departure of Brent Pry to be a head coach at Virginia Tech, while new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will take on the role after the bowl game.
Poindexter is taking over the defense that will be playing without safety Jaquan Brisker, defensive end Arnold Ebiketie or linebackers Brandon Smith and Ellis Brooks. All four players have opted out of the bowl game to begin focusing on their NFL futures, leaving Penn State’s defensive depth being put to the test against Arkansas.
“I think we’ve got enough leadership that we don’t have to ask these young guys to be leaders, but they’re gonna have to communicate,” Poindexter said. “Any time you play a team like Arkansas that’s running tempo offense, you’re going to have to communicate and be on the same page. They’ve been practicing. They know what to do. Now they’re just going to have to go out there and do it.”
Penn State’s defense will be put to the test by the Razorbacks. Although Arkansas is without its top wide receiver, Treylon Burks, after opting out himself, the Razorbacks have plenty of ability to do some damage on offense with a mobile quarterback in KJ Jefferson and a decent ability to run the football, something Penn State has struggled containing against quality opponents this season. But odds are probably pretty good Poindexter and the rest of the staff and defense had a better expectation of who will and will not be available for this game, so it’s probably not likely these opt-outs of Brisker or Ebiketie were accounted for in game planning in recent weeks.
Penn State did get some good news with some key defensive players deciding to return for another season, thus will be available for the Outback Bowl. Safety Ji’Ayir Brown, cornerback Joey Porter Jr. and Jonathan Sutherland all confirmed they will return in 2022. And despite speculation, he may also be moving on, Jesse Luketa has arrived in Tampa and is practicing with the team this week. Luketa could see more time at linebacker this week as Penn State adjusts its defense.
Penn State faces Arkansas in the Outback Bowl in Tampa on Saturday, January 1, 2022 at 12:00 p.m. ET.