Playing in a bowl game will be a first for Arkansas senior Rohan Gaines, and the Razorback defensive back is trying to soak it all in as the team prepares to take on Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl on Jan. 2 in Memphis.
Gaines did not play in last year’s Texas Bowl after he was suspended before the game. The Bainbridge, Ga., native is looking forward to his experience.
“It’s going to be very emotional, just to know that I’m playing with these guys one last time,” Gaines said Friday. “It’s bittersweet.”
The Razorbacks began preparing for Kansas State (6-6) on Thursday, Gaines said. With almost two weeks before the game, Arkansas is slowly putting in its game plan to try and contain the Wildcats’ run-heavy offense, led by quarterback Joe Hubner.
“Up until (Thursday) we’ve been going Arkansas vs. Arkansas and getting better at what we do best,” Gaines said. “(Thursday) we started working on preparing for
Kansas State for a little bit. We don’t play tomorrow, so we don’t have to get everything in these two days. It’s just a steady crescendo of getting better and better each day.”
Arkansas senior defensive end Deatrich Wise, whose late-season surge helped the Razorbacks close with five wins in six games, said keeping Hubner in the pocket and making the Kansas State quarterback try and beat them with his arm would be the key to the game.
“They are very run heavy,” Wise said. “If we can stop their run and force them to pass more, then we have a good chance to win this game.”
Hubner is a dual-threat with both his legs and arm, but the Wildcats’ quarterback has struggled in the pass game. Hubner is 131 of 274 for 1,837 yards passing, but has 9 interceptions to go along with 9 touchdowns. He is much more effective as a runner with 613 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns.
“We’ve faced a bunch of dual-threat quarterbacks this whole season,” Wise said. “We have to contain him, make sure he stays in the pocket. With his versatility, we have to contain the outside.”
Wise, who said he plans to return to Arkansas for his senior season next fall, explained the reason for his late-season sack streak was more preparation and going back to things that had worked for him in the past.
“Things started clicking later in the season,” Wise said. “I watched film extra hard and went back to the drawing board on a few things, moves and key things that I saw. And I just executed on it, so I guess it turned out well.”
Both Wise and Gaines said Arkansas would not make a lot of changes to its base defense to contain the Kansas State quarterback.
Junior defensive back Jared Collins said the Razorbacks have used the time off since the regular-season ending win over Missouri to prepare for the bowl game.
“We’ve been learning each and every practice, getting our legs back under us,” Collins said. “We had a lot of free time since school was over, so we’ve just been watching a lot of film and coming in and getting better.”
Fayetteville freshman linebacker Dre Greenlaw, who was named to the Sporting News Freshman All-America team on Wednesday, said he was surprised at the honor, especially considering he was playing a new position.
“If you would have asked me when I first came here if I was going to be a freshman All-America, I would have said no,” Greenlaw said. “Especially at linebacker because it was something new.”
Greenlaw, a true freshman, credited his teammates and coaches for having the confidence to put him on the field despite his inexperience.
“My coaches, they have faith in me,” Greenlaw said. “Just to be able to go out there and play my first year. It was a lot of pressure, but they were with me all the way and my teammates backed me up. They just told me to go out there and make plays.”