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Penn State suffers another defensive defection before Outback Bowl

STEVE HEISER
717-505-5446/@ydsports
Penn State defensive end Arnold Ebiketie (17) celebrates after forcing Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara (12) to fumble during an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa.on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

The Penn State defense that starts in the Outback Bowl will bear little resemblance to the unit that was ranked among the nation’s best during the regular season.

The Nittany Lions lost another defensive standout on Tuesday when defensive end Arnold Ebiketie announced that he is declaring for the 2022 NFL draft and won’t play against Arkansas in Saturday’s bowl.

Ebiketie could’ve returned to Penn State for an extra season of eligibility because of an NCAA waiver related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but after a standout redshirt senior season, Ebiketie elected to begin his pursuit of a pro career.

“I have decided to forego our bowl game and declare for the 2022 NFL Draft,” Ebiketie wrote in a social-media post. “From one dream to the next, I thank every person who has supported and helped me make this dream a reality.”

Ebiketie joins a growing list of PSU players who have decided against playing in the bowl game.

Wide receiver Jahan Dotson and safety Jaquan Brisker made their opt-out announcements on Monday, while linebackers Brandon Smith and Ellis Brooks had made their decisions known last week.

Those five players are arguably the five best players on the 2021 Lions’ team. The defense has been particularly hard hit. In addition to Brisker, Ebiketie, Smith and Brooks, defensive lineman P.J. Mustipher has been missing from the starting lineup since a season-ending injury against Iowa in midseason.

The 6-foot, 3-inch 256-pound Ebiketie spent just one season in Happy Valley after transferring from Temple, but he made a significant impact, leading the team in sacks (9.5) and tackles for loss (18). He was an All-Big Ten first-team selection by the conference’s coaches and media.

Dotson will leave PSU as one of the most accomplished wide receivers in program history. The 5-11, 184-pounder is considered a first-round pick in many mock drafts after finishing his 2021 season with 91 receptions for 1,182 yards with 12 touchdowns. Dotson made first-team All-Big Ten and was named a third-team All-American by the Associated Press.

In his social-media statement, Dotson said it has been "nothing but special" to play for the Nittany Lions for the last four seasons.

"To my teammates and coaches, I appreciate you for pushing me every single day and shaping me to be the man I am today," he said. "To my family, I love you guys more than you could ever imagine. This journey has been nothing short of amazing and I can't wait to continue it with you by my side."

Brisker was another first-team All-Big Ten player. He transferred after two years at Lackawanna College in Scranton and played three seasons with the Nittany Lions. He finished fourth on the team in tackles this season with 64, including six tackles for losses.

"I will be forgoing our bowl game and I will be focusing on preparing for the 2022 NFL draft," he wrote on his social-media statement. "I've been waiting for this all my life and I can't wait to see what the future holds."

The 6-1, 200-pound Brisker is ranked No. 47 on the list of NFL draft-eligible prospects compiled by CBSSports.com, and the No. 2 safety.

With the defensive defections, Penn State will be hard-pressed to match the defensive level it reached during the regular season, when it finished seventh in the nation in scoring defense at 16.75 points per game allowed.

PSU will also be operating under a new defensive coordinator in the bowl game. Brent Pry left after the regular season to take the head-coaching job at Virginia Tech. Anthony Poindexter has been promoted to run the PSU defense vs. Arkansas before former Miami head coach Manny Diaz assumes the defensive coordinator role for next season.

The nation’s sportsbooks have also taken notice of the PSU losses. The Lions (7-5) had opened as a 2½-point favorite over Arkansas (8-4). The Razorbacks are now a one-point favorite over PSU.

Reach Steve Heiser at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com or @ydsports. Please consider subscribing to support local journalism.