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Liberty Bowl Preview and Prediction: Kansas vs. Arkansas

NCAA Football: Tennessee Tech at Kansas

Here is everything you need to know about the 2022 AutoZone Liberty Bowl between the Kansas Jayhawks and the Arkansas Razorbacks.

GAME INFO

Wednesday, December 28, 2022; 4:30 p.m. CT; Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium; Memphis, Tennessee

TV: ESPN (Dave O’Brien, Dan Mullen, Taylor McGregor)

Radio: Jayhawk Radio Network (Brian Hanni, David Lawrence, Brandon McAnderson)

Records: Kansas (6-6, 3-6 Big 12); Arkansas (6-6, 3-5 SEC)

Rankings: Both teams unranked

Last Week: Kansas 27, Kansas State 47; Arkansas 27, Missouri 29

Series History: Kansas leads 2-0

Last Meeting: Kansas 37, Arkansas 5 (1906)

Favorite: Arkansas (-3)

Fun Fact: Despite being just over four hours away from one another, Kansas and Arkansas haven’t played each other since 1906, over 115 years ago.

 

KEY PLAYERS

KANSAS JAYHAWKS

QB Jalon Daniels

If Jalon Daniels wouldn’t have had to miss four games due to a shoulder injury sustained against TCU, he would likely be up for some all-conference honors. Daniels leads the country in QBR (90.0) and has a 13-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio on the year. Daniels is a playmaker, and can make things very difficult for opposing defenses. That is bad news for an Arkansas team that is missing its top two linebackers and its defensive coordinator.

DE Lonnie Phelps

Arguably Kansas’ best defender in 2022, defensive end Lonnie Phelps has been a regular in the opponent’s backfield this season. With seven sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles, Phelps has been a difference-maker for the Jayhawks and will need to be just that against Arkansas. Woo Pig is ninth in the country in rushing yards per game, and Phelps, along with the rest of the Kansas defensive line, will need to find a way to slow them down.

 

ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS

RB Raheim “Rocket” Sanders

Arkansas running back Raheim Sanders will be the Hogs’ main weapon against Kansas, as the sophomore has been their top rusher in 2022. With 219 carries for 1,426 yards and 10 touchdowns, Sanders has averaged a healthy 6.5 yards per carry this season. Kansas’ biggest pitfall this season has been stopping the run, and that is music to Sam Pittman’s ears. Expect Arkansas to feature Sanders early and often as they try and establish the line of scrimmage against the Jayhawks.

Arkansas Linebackers

Arkansas will be without its top two tacklers in this game as linebackers Drew Sanders and Bumper Pool will both be out of this game. Sanders, a unanimous All-American, opted out of the game after leading the Hogs in tackles (103), sacks (9.5), and forced fumbles (3) in his only year in Fayetteville. Pool on the other hand will miss the game with an injury, and is second on the team with 92 total stops on the year. That likely leaves Arkansas with Chris Paul Jr. as the only “experienced” backer in the group with a bunch of young guys being forced to play a key position.

 

KEY STORYLINES

KANSAS JAYHAWKS

Can the Kansas offense take advantage of Arkansas’ missing pieces? KU has had one of the most explosive offenses in the country this season and running back Devin Neal has been a star out of the backfield. If he can get things going against an undermanned Arkansas linebacker corps, Kansas could be in business. The Arkansas passing defense has been awful (118th nationally) this season, allowing 273.9 yards per game through the air. Kansas should put up points in bunches, but can they stop Arkansas’ running attack?

ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS

The Arkansas running game is producing 223.4 yards per game this season, while the Kansas rushing defense is allowing 193.7 yards per game. This feels like a mismatch that Arkansas will try and attack, especially since its top pass catcher, Jadon Haselwood, is sitting this game out to prepare for the NFL Draft. Kansas’ offense should find success in this game, and I’m certain Arkansas will have some massive holes to run through as well. The question for Arkansas defensively is, can they outscore Jalen Daniels, Devin Neal, and the Kansas passing game?

PREDICTION: Arkansas 41, Kansas 34

I think the Arkansas running game with “Rocket” Sanders and K.J. Jefferson is just too much for the Jayhawks to overcome in the end. When a team can control the line of scrimmage with the running game, it can lead to all kinds of issues with clock management and other aspects of the game for the opposing sideline. Kansas has struggled mightily against good rushing teams this season and I’m just afraid that KU got a bad matchup with the Razorbacks. They’ll keep it close, but Arkansas will win in the end.

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