FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – On a day not fit for man or beast, Arkansas decided to put it into beast mode. Take your pick on the beast. Maybe it was Alex Collins, relentless in a 30-carry day for 130 yards and three touchdowns.
Or, just maybe the beasts were those five studs on the Arkansas media guide. Denver Kirkland, Sebastian Tretola, Mitch Smothers, Frank Ragnow and Dan Skipper ended the season with a manly performance that backed coach Bret Bielema's decision to put the entire line on the media guide for the first time in school history.
It was that same offensive line – the same five starters were there for all 12 games – that opened the season puzzled on how to impose their will against the slants and stunts of a good Toledo defensive line. They faced a similar style of defense in Missouri, perhaps the SEC's second best behind Alabama.
They used that movement to their advantage with Collins turning in maybe his most impressive game of a wonderful three-year career, possibly his last at home with the Razorbacks. Collins finishes the regular season with 1,392 yards and 17 touchdowns.
It gave the Hogs a 7-5 season in Bielema's third year as coach. More impressive, they were 5-3 in SEC play. They are just the eighth Arkansas team to finish the SEC above .500 since coming into the league in 1992. It was the seventh SEC victory in 11 games. The previous seven league victories came in 26 games.
The rain poured hard out of the north on a 40-degree day, turning the play calling away from quarterback Brandon Allen's prolific passing. He'd thrown for seven touchdowns last week and 19 since the bye week over five games to claim the career record with 63.
Allen didn't throw one pass towards the end zone on this nasty day, completing just 11 of 17 for 102 yards. The fifth-year senior from Fayetteville could have cared less.
“It's a victory,” said Allen. “We knew this was going to be a day that we had to run the ball. It was just a hard day to throw it.”
Allen said the footballs were heavy and wet throughout. Getting a good grip was never easy. Even Collins said just holding onto the ball was almost impossible.
“You couldn't unless you put both hands on it,” he said. “You couldn't even feel it sometimes you were so cold. So you grabbed it with both hands and held it tight.
“Our offensive line did a great job. Missouri's defense is really good. But we blocked them and kept pounding it. I loved it.”
Collins wouldn't say if it was his final game at home. He said that decision is still to be made and said the emotions that poured forth in pre-game talks with teammates was more about knowing he would not play again with the seniors.
“We were all emotional,” Collins said. “It's knowing you aren't going to play with those seniors again. That's why I was emotional. A lot of guys are emotional. As far (as the NFL), I'll have to sit down with my family and see what's best.”
Bielema said there was little doubt about the emotional nature of the game for Collins.
“I grabbed him in pre-game and in the course of the week and let him know if the weather pans out the way it looks, that we are gong to ride you my friend,” Bielema said. “It was fun to see him have that kind of a game. We have some juniors who will have to make some decisions.
“I will visit with him tomorrow and send his paper work in Monday. I know he was a little emotional before the game because I really think he felt the vibe that it could be his last game. If it is, it is and we will wish him the best. There is a lot of conversation between now and then.”
Collins did everything right. There were times there was nothing there and he lost yardage, but never much. If the best he could do was a 2-yard loss, he put his head down and took it. And, if there was a defender to juke to get to the line of scrimmage, he did that.
There was the beautiful 25-yard touchdown scamper to end the first half that was vintage Collins. He took a toss pitch, cut to the outside and then cut back behind Dominique Reed's screening block inside the 10-yard line.
That play followed the only Missouri drive of the day, leading only to a 35-yard field goal by Andrew Baggett. The Hogs chewed up most of the remaining 6:09 of the half with Collins scoring with 39 seconds left.
No one did much in the second half, except when the Hogs parlayed defense and a short field for a 34-yard drive. Missouri native Kody Walker powered the final 9 yards to finish the scoring with 2:15 left in the third quarter.
The rain never let up, but neither did the Arkansas offensive line. They let the quick Tigers move sideways and cut them off with slick blocking. Collins waited patiently for the holes to develop.
Tretola said it was a beautiful way to end the regular season on senior day. A junior college transfer with only two years in the program did the talking at midefield just as he has for the second half of the season. He said it was a little different message this time.
“I probably did get emotional,” he said. “I told 'em a bunch of stuff. I pointed to all of the seniors. We know there are so many playing their last time here, some like Brandon who grew up here. It's so important to play for him, his last game and send him and the seniors out in a great way.
“So it was a huge day. I pointed to him, that's my boy. He never changed one bit in the two years I've known him. He's been huge.
“I think we just played so hard today. And, it was great to go out like this, especially for Brandon. Just think about how people have drug him through the mud and he's fought for five years here. He's been chewed up by fans and spit out. And, he's so resilient, just kept coming. You have seen it all year.”
Obviously, it's a tight team and that came out in a Wednesday night team meeting when Bielema called up the seniors one by one. Allen was first. By the time the last senior was done, Bielema passed on his planned speech about that bunch. He did use it before the game Friday.
“I couldn't do it Wednesday night,” he said. “They got up one by one and told what they are thankful for and it was about teammates, their coaches and their parents. You heard it over and over. I just wasn't able to give them what I had planned.”
Allen talked about his offensive line.
“They do all of the dirty work,” Allen said. “I'm thankful for them. I know they have the tough job. They may get a little more publicity here, but it's still a dirty job. They keep me upright. They protect me.
“Then, you look at what they did today. It was the kind of day that you knew there wasn't going to be a lot of passing. Missouri was going to tee off on our guys up front and in this weather they had a tough job. But they were great. They wore them down.”
Indeed, the Hogs imposed their will, just like Bielema likes to talk about. Tretola was beaming.
“Yeah, we knew they were going to move a lot up front, just before the snap,” Tretola said. “So we just used that to our advantage, took them where they were going. And, yeah we did wear them down. It's a great thing when everyone knows you are going to run it and you still can run it.
“You weren't going to be able to just drive them off, win off the top. You had to let them go to where they were going, use their speed and quickness to our advantage. They know what they are doing and do it well, but we used that today.”
Tretola's comments about Allen were relayed to the quarterback at the end of the interview session. Did he ever feel like he was being drug through the mud?
“Well, that's just Sebastian's way of saying, 'I got your back,' and I know he does,” Allen said. “Those guys up front have always had my back.”
That's the relationship with a line and a quarterback. It's easy to see why Allen spoke about the big uglies up front Wednesday night.
Collins was beaming about a visit from Florida for the weekend. Doug Gatewood, the high school coach who taught him football, made the trip for the first time of his career.
“It was so good to have him here this weekend,” Collins said. “My mom has not made it here, but Coach Gatewood did. He's the guy that's been there when ever I had a question. If it was adversity, he helped me. He's always been there for me and for him to be here today was just great.”
Collins said that gave him an extra burst all day.
“You knew it was going to be a downhill day,” he said. “It was going to be about running the ball. Missouri's defense is difficult, but I wanted to dedicate this game to our seniors.
“The offensive line did a great job. We had some things planned to take advantage of Missouri's speed, some cut backs.
“It's a good feeling to have the coaches call my number. I didn't care if it was 30 or 35. I was going to try. I know our offensive line and our tight ends gave us a great push tonight. There were times that they pushed me four or five yards after contact. I just put my head down and let me push me.
“Missouri's front is good and sound. They are in the right spots and can tackle.”
Told that his six times over the 100-yard mark in SEC games put him even with Darren McFadden, Collins said, “That's a great comparison. I just think we did that together as a unit.”
Tretola gave some love back to Collins.
“AC, he was crazy good today,” Tretola said. “Really, all year. What he does is crazy. He's so athletic. A lot of what he got out there today was just on him. He made guys miss. He was amazing.”
There was a lot of that being passed around.
“I think what we did after the bye week just shows how tight we are,” Tretola said. “We just came together and said it wasn't over. We knew we had to play harder and not let each other down. It's a tight bunch.
“We just knew we were so much better than what we'd played in the first half. We knew it, our coaches knew it and our trainers knew it. We just had to play how we knew how to play.”
The Hogs finished it off with the cover boys, that beautiful offensive line.
Dre Greenlaw makes one of his five tackles.
Kody Walker powered for 77 yards and one touchdown.
Quarterback Brandon Allen completed 11 of 17 passes.
Hunter Henry had two catches for 28 yards.