Adams moved toward the left sideline and glanced one final time at the defenders before catching the punt near midfield. He used a clearing block to break away, then ran across the field toward the left sideline.
Then he saw the opening. Adams raced down the sideline with one Wildcat to beat, the punter Ryan Doerr, who never had a chance after Javontee Herndon blew him up with a block.
The rest was smooth sailing as Adams returned his fourth punt for a touchdown this season and kick-started No. 6 Arkansas to a 29-16 win in the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic on Friday in front of 80,956.
"Wow!" Adams said when asked about the play after the game. "That's all you can say there. Wow!"
It was the fifth time in his career that Adams has returned a punt for a touchdown. The four returned punts this season tied a Southeastern Conference single-season record, and his five career touchdowns are the third-most in SEC history.
The lengthy layoff each team had between the end of the regular season and this game was evident early. Arkansas did not record a first down until their were 12 minutes, 35 seconds left in the second quarter despite a 10-0 lead.
While Arkansas struggled offensively, especially in the run game, the Razorbacks (11-2) played exceptional defense most of the night. Kansas State managed just 176 yards of total offense and two touchdowns.
"They did a great job," Petrino said of his defense, which played its first game under new defensive coordinator Paul Haynes. "We came in with a good plan. They played really hard and fast, and kept going until the very end."
Arkansas senior Jake Bequette forced a Kansas State fumble late in the first quarter when he stripped quarterback Collin Klein of the ball inside the Wildcats' 20-yard line. Tenarius Wright recovered at the Kansas State 13, but the Razorbacks had to settle for a Zach Hocker 26-yard field goal with 4:19 left in the first quarter.
Adams' game-changing punt return came early in the second quarter after Arkansas punter Dylan Breeding pinned the Wildcats back inside their own 5-yard line. The Razorbacks defense forced a three-and-out, and Doerr was forced to punt from his own end zone and Adams made them pay.
"It was the difference in the game," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. "He's a talented player. We knew he could make you miss."
Arkansas later led 13-0 on Hocker's second field goal, then 19-0 when quarterback Tyler Wilson hit Jarius Wright down the right sideline with a 45-yard touchdown pass with 4:10 left in the half. On the extra-point attempt, Kansas State's Raphael Guidry blocked the kick and teammate Nigel Malone returned the block for two points.
It was Guidry's fifth blocked kick of the season. The play seemed to spark Kansas State on a 16-point swing the rest of the half.
Arkansas suffered its only turnover on its next possession when Wilson was stripped of the ball at his own 17 and Kansas State recovered at the 13. Three plays later Klein hit Andre McDonald on a 3-yard scoring pass with just 26 seconds left in the half, cutting the margin to 19-9.
Kansas State took advantage of an Arkansas special teams gaffe to start the third quarter when Hocker's kickoff sailed out of bounds, giving the Wildcats the ball at the 40-yard line. Kansas State drove 60 yards in 7 plays, capped by Klein's 6-yard run and closed the gap to 19-16.
But that was as close as the Wildcats would come. Arkansas stuck its second possession of the third quarter in the end zone when Wilson hit Chris Gragg for 26 yards on the first play, then later hit Colbi Hamilton on a short crossing route for the touchdown.
Hocker added the final score of the game on a 30-yard field goal with 3:30 left.
Bequette credited Haynes with a great game plan to slow down Kansas State's grinding offense.
"He did a great job preparing us," said Bequette, who did not play in the stadium earlier in the season when Arkansas rallied to defeat Texas A&M in the Southwest Classic. "We knew if we could get them into second-and-long and third-and-long, we could have success."
Wilson, the game's offensive player of the game, finished the night 20-of-31 for 216 yards. Klein, a junior, was held to 42 yards and was sacked six times.
The Razorbacks celebrate with the Cotton Bowl trophy.
Jake Bequette knocks the ball loose from K-State quarterback Collin Klein
Joe Adams heads for the end zone on a TD return.
Bobby Petrino gives an earful to a Big Ten official.
Tyler Wilson prepares for a hit.
Felix Jones leads fans at the Arkansas pre-game pep rally.
Broderick Green hurdles a Wildcat.
Greg Childs had a big game in the Cotton Bowl.
The game clincher was an interception by Jerico Nelson.
Arkansas fans warm up for the Cotton Bowl.
Photos by Marc F. Henning, Hawgs Illustrated