MEMPHIS, Tenn. - If Arkansas junior tailback Alex Collins finished up his Arkansas football career on Saturday, he certainly went out in style.
Collins, who could leave early for the NFL, was named the MVP after rushing 23 times for 185 yards while tying a AutoZone Liberty Bowl record with three touchdowns as the Razorbacks whipped Kansas State 45-23 before 61, 136 fans.
Arkansas senior quarterback Brandon Allen was 20-of-26 passing for 315 yards in his final college game as the Razorbacks racked up 569 yards total offense and tied a Liberty Bowl record with six touchdowns.
“From the time of the announcement to where we are today, the kids locked in on what we needed to do,” Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said. “With all bowl games you worry about the X-factor, how may things that our guys are going to be put through that are different and if they can handle the change.
“I thought they championed the moment when we were practicing back in Fayetteville. They did a great job during finals and closed out the semester with the highest fall GPA.
“…The whole thing they did and to come in here and play like they did. I give a lot of credit to K-State, I love (head) Coach (Billl) Snyder and everything about him.
“A lot of of the things in our program are things I learned from him. I’m very blessed to be in this position and excited about the future.”
The victory gave Arkansas (8-5) three straight bowl wins and six wins in its last seven games this season after finishing the first half of the regular season 2-4.
“It means a lot,” Bielema said. “Our guys fought all through the year to get to where we got, went through some adversity and the guys responded in the right way. We have a great group of kids that do things right on and off the field and they make you really proud.”
The win also moved the SEC to 8-2 in bowl games.
“What people have to realize is that we play each other,” Bielema said. “If somebody wants to find out, come play all seven of us and see what you think.”
Kansas State (6-7) - who had won three straight - got on the board first when it capitalized on an Allen interception on the third play of the game, but would go on to have just 242 yards total offense during the contest.
"Obviously we were very disappointed in the ball game," Snyder said. "...Arkansas is an extremely fine and talented football team. We play a lot of fine and talented football teams during the course of the season and Arkansas fits in that group.
"But once again, it wasn't Arkansas, it was us. But that's the way it is every ball game. It truly is about your preparation and performance and our youngsters prepared well. We didn't coach them well today. They created some issues for us.
"I thought coming back in the second half, we do have a bunch of young guys who are going to compete and not give in. They didn't and they closed it to four, but then the wheels fell off."
Collins, whose 185 yards rushing was third best in Liberty Bowl history broke the Arkansas single-season mark for touchdowns as he finished the season with 20 and moved into second all-time on rushing yardage with 3,703 for his career.
He is only behind Darren McFadden on the all-time school list, but did tie him by going over 100 yards for the 10th time this season.
“I feel honored,” Collins said. “I don’t take credit for anything because without the other 10 guys on the field I am not able to do anything.
“The offensive line did a great job blocking for me and opening up holes to make it a lot easier for me.”
Arkansas senior offensive lineman Sebastian Tretola said it was a pleasure to block for Collins because of his mentality.
“The kid is unbelievable,” Tretola said. “He runs angry, he runs mad, the legs never stop and that adds to our mentality.”
Collins, who also had a 68-yard kickoff return that set up one a score, rushed for 1,577 yards this season.
“Really it is just all the things that he usually does - running hard, protects the football, plays behind his pads and is really, really patient with his offensive line in front of him,” Bielema said.
“I think he is a very talented player and has a very difficult decision ahead. The good news is that we have a lot of good players coming back next year regardless of the two or three guys that might go out.”
Collins and Bielema are scheduled to have lunch on Wednesday to discuss his decision.
He was what Snyder expected to see.
"I don't think it was anything different than what we saw on video tape," Snyder said. "He is an expolsive young guy. He runs downhill and he can make you miss. He is an extremely talented young guy. You look across and you have a plethora of exciting and talented running backs in the SEC and he is at the top of that list."
Allen, throwing for over 300 yards for the fourth game this campaign, also went out in style as his 30 touchdown passes tied Ryan Mallett for second-best on school history.
He also finished second all-time with 244 completions this season while his 3,440 yards passing this year is fourth-best in school history and he ends third all-time with 7,843 yards career passing yards.
“I’m glad we won,” Allen said. “If I was going out for my last game with everything I’ve done and gone through these five years, it’s great to go out on top.
“It’s something that I am going to always remember and these seniors are always going to remember. We went out as winners and that’s something that they can’t take away from us.”
Bielema has a special place in his heart for Allen and the rest of his seniors.
“BA is a special kid,” Bielema said. “To play the way down the stretch that he did, he is going earn his spot with a very good chance at the NFL and I couldn’t be more proud of him.
“Our seniors have been through a lot. They didn’t draw up the recruiting process by what they went through with the coaching changes, but they weathered the storm.”
After Kansas State clawed back to 31-23 late in the third quarter, Arkansas put the game on its next possession for all intents and purposes.
That included a 43-yard pass from Allen to Hunter Henry on 3rd and 13 that put the Razorbacks down to the Wildcats’ 14.
“It was a play that we put in for this game,” Allen said. “We were able to run the tunnel screen earlier in the game so we kind of set it up perfectly.
“In practice it gets off a lot quicker, but we had to double clutch it and I had to move around a little to give Hunter a chance to get by him. I under threw it and he made a great play. That was a huge momentum boost for us.”
Collins then broke five tackles to cover the last 14 yards on the next play and combined with Cole Hedlund’s PAT to put Arkansas ahead 38-23 with 12:04 left.
Kody Walker (11 carries, 55 yards rushing) then left no doubt when he banged in from the 10 to cap the scoring with 4:46 left in the game.
Defensive MVP Josh Liddell noted that his side of the ball played much better in the second half.
“After that big third quarter play (on which the Wildcats scored), all the guys came together on the sideline and we talked about it,” Liddell said. “The coaches made adjustments, we talked about what happened and what we could do to fix it.
“We just pulled together. When things went sideways during this time we just all came together. We never really pointed fingers, we just stayed together and stayed with it and it worked out for us.”
The Razorbacks had a scary moment during the game when junior wide receiver Dominique Reed was knocked out on a helmet-to-helmet play in the second quarter.
He was carted off the field for precautionary reasons and went to the hospital, but was back in the locker room at the end of the game.
Kody Cook, a former wide receiver, started at quarterback for the Wildcats and finished 12-of-24 passing for 163 yards and rushed 12 times for 19 yards.
Arkansas led 24-13 at halftime with Collins scoring on runs of 22 and 13 yards, wide receiver Jared Cornelius on a 13-yard dash and Cole Hedlund kicking a 26-yard field goal.
Kansas State cut that to a 24-20 when Cook hit a wide open Winston Dimel for 44 yards and a score with 12:44 left in the third quarter.
Arkansas answered right back with Allen tossing a 6-yard touchdown to Jeremy Sprinkle (4 catches, 81 yards) with Hedlund’s PAT pushing it to 31-20.
Matthew McCrane’s 32-yard field goal would cut it to 31-23, but Allen’s third-down pass to Henry and Collins’ third scoring run took the momentum right back.
Drew Morgan had 8 catches for 92 yards and Henry 5 receptions for 92 yards while Cornelis hauled in two passes for 35 yards and Reed 1 catch for 15 yards on the play he was hurt.
Photos by Jason Ivester
Alex Collins ripped off 185 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday.
Jeremy Sprinkle had 4 catches for 81 yards and also had a carry for four yards.
Brooks Ellis closes in on a sack of Kansas State quarterback Kody Cook
Bret Bielema got a win over one of his mentors - Kansas State head coach Bill Synder - on Saturday.
Dominique Reed got 15 yards on this catch, but also got hurt at the end of the play and had to be carted off the field
Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen looks over Reed.
Reed is carted off the field, but later returned to the locker room after the game to celebrate with his team.