MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The S-E-C chant started in the northeast corner of Liberty Bowl Stadium as Arkansas began to run out the final 4:37 in a 45-23 victory over Kansas State. By the 2:47 mark, it reached a fever pitch as the red clad throng, perhaps 60 percent of the 61,136.
It was a far cry from the chants 44 years ago when an SEC official was chased off the field by Arkansas coaches for bad calls that turned a game to Tennessee.
The Arkansas players heard the chants and enjoyed talking about SEC supremacy in the post-game interviews.
Except for a series of short kickoffs in an attempt to keep the ball away from All-America return specialist Morgan Burns, the Hogs were thorough in their demolition of their Big 12 foe. They set Arkansas bowl records for points (45), total offensive yards (569), passing first downs (14) and tied the Liberty Bowl record for first downs (30).
If it had not been for giving K-State an average starting field position of its own 39, the Hogs might have really stomped on the Wildcats. K-State needed only needed 249 yards to get two touchdowns and three field goals.
Arkansas players talked about the SEC's proud reputation in the interviews afterwards, although they dodged those conversations in any media sessions leading up to the bowl. Quarterback Brandon Allen admitted there was pride in handing the SEC another solid bowl victory. The Hogs knew it's 6-1 for the SEC West and 8-2 for the conference so far.
“It feels good,” Allen said. “We've been watching a lot of games, a lot of SEC (winning) beat downs. I”m not saying we wanted to beat K-State down, but we wanted to put our stamp on this game.
“There has been talk the SEC is down. You see the games, where the SEC West teams just wear you down in the fourth quarter.”
Offensive guard Sebastian Tretola added, “We wanted to put up a lot of points and dominate.”
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said it's "mind blowing" that everyone doesn't see the overall power of the SEC, especially the West.
"We play each other and there are going to be losses," he said. "Let someone come play seven of us in a year and let's see what they think then."
The Hogs were dominant in the fourth quarter. They led only 31-23 after three quarters, but pulled away with a 14-0 edge in the last period. They finished the game in the victory formation at the KSU 22. There was a feel-good moment at the end when senior Jonathan Williams – out all year after foot surgery – took the prevent deep spot for the final two snaps.
Junior running back Alex Collins picked up the slack for Williams again, perhaps for the last time. With 185 yards on 23 carries, Collins pushed his season total to 1,577 yards. There were three touchdowns to give him the school record with 20.
The last touchdown was vintage Collins. He broke three tackles with a spinning, churning 14-yard TD run that made it 38-23 with 12:04 left. That put the cap on a performance that earned him two trophies, as the game's most valuable player and Arkansas' top offensive performer.
All Big 12 defensive tackle Travis Britt said Collins ran through him on that final run through the heart of the K-State defense.
“Unfortunately, I missed a tackle at the goal line for Alex to score,” Britt said. “They just made plays when they needed to.”
Britt had explained earlier, “What I noticed about Alex is he has great vision when he picks a hole. And his offensive linemen did a great job of blocking us today.”
Burns, who doubles as a standout corner, applauded Collins, too.
“I think he had great patience,” Burns said. “You expect him to hit it hard every time, but he reads his blocks andhad time to cut back or hit the hole hard. When he needed to hit the hole hard, he did that, too. He had a huge impact. He broke a lot of tackles and made a lot of big plays for his team.”
There was a tip of the cap from K-State coach Bill Snyder, too.
“You look across the SEC and there is a plethora of exciting and talented running backs in the SEC,” Snyder said, “and he's at the top of the list … he breaks tackles and makes you miss on the edge. He can make guys miss and sometimes that goes unnoticed when you are carrying that type of size around. He can handle his own.”
That touchdown came on the next play after Allen hooked up with Hunter Henry on a 43-yard strike down the sideline on a third-and-13. The combination of the two plays did in the Wildcats.
The play was a variation off of a bubble screen that had been effective for the Hogs all season. Allen had to wait for Henry to make his move and also take a hit as he delivered a strike as he was falling backwards.
"It probably didn't work like it did in practice," Allen said. "It took a little longer for it to develop. We'd hurt them with a play off of that earlier."
Allen was asked about the interception he threw on the game's opening possession that helped the Wildcats to a 7-0 lead.
"I've thrown interceptions before," Allen said, then smiled when he realized the humor in his comment. "I mean, I've come back from them and I knew how. I tried to do a better job of taking care of the ball after that."
Bielema, who chuckled at Allen's remarks, seemed to be on a recruiting mission with Collins. They will meet over lunch Wednesday in his hometown of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., as Collins decides on his future. He is draft grade is solid, but Bielema seems to think there is more potential with a return for another season.
“If he comes back, he looks like a Heisman candidate,” Bielema said. “He could become the first SEC back to run for over 1,000 in four straight seasons. If he goes to the NFL, he can be a great player.”
Bielema had plenty of compliments for Collins, particularly in the academic area. The team posted a grade point of over 3.0 for the semester and Bielema said Collins did his part iwth four As and one B.
"Alex played his best football this year and it had a steady crecendo to it. The part he really improved was his toughness and durability. Alex drew closer to the team this year."
Everyone in the post-game interviews was pleased over a new look with the helmets. The Hogs sported a "chrome" look with a bright shine to the overall helmet and a chrome colored running Razorback, with chrome face masks.
"I had designed that helmet when I was at my last place and was ready to use them at the Rose Bowl, but I didn't get to coach that game," Bielema said. "So I just took them with me."
Tretola said, "The last time we changed the uniform, we lost three in a row. These are awesome. They give us a swagger."
Josh Liddell added, "We love them. We hope the future holds that we can wear them again with this win. It's fun."
Collins said, "You look good, you play good."
Arkansas fans were chanting “one more year” as Collins was announced as the game's MVP on a stage at midfield after the game. They were not as loud as the S-E-C chants, but Collins seemed to notice.
“I just wanted to put the game away,” Collins said, referencing his final TD. “It was great to see everyone's faces (celebrate) on that play. I felt like I had to do my part.”
The only other concern seemed to be from Arkansas fans after wide receiver Dominique Reed had been knocked unconcious on a hit to the helmet with 2:08 left in the first half. Bielema revealed after the game that Reed was in good shape when they got to the locker room after the game, with only a bad headache.
"He was walking, talking and even smiled," Bielema said. "He just got flat out knocked out. Our guys did a great job of taking care of him with all of the precautions when they didn't get a couple of answers right. But he's fine."
With that, it was time to move the celebration to Beale Street where the red-clad throng would dance with players.