Arkansas beat Kansas State 45-23 to win the Liberty Bowl on Saturday. It’s the second-straight year Arkansas has dominated its opponent in a bowl (vs. Texas, 2014 Texas Bowl) and the third-straight bowl victory for the Hogs.
Here are the grades based on the team’s performance this weekend:
Arkansas threw an interception on its first possession, and that’s probably the only real flaw. The Razorbacks offense looked as polished as their shiny new helmets, amassing 569 total yards — second-most in Liberty Bowl history. They also racked up a Liberty Bowl-record 30 first downs.
Running back Alex Collins earned MVP honors with his 185 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries. That performance put him in sole possession of the school’s single-season rushing touchdown record with 20. Kody Walker added 56 yards as the Hogs rolled up 254 rushing yards, averaging 6 yards per carry behind their massive offensive line.
Senior quarterback Brandon Allen capped his college career with yet another 300-yard game, completing 20-of-26 for 315 yards and a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeremy Sprinkle, who had a breakout game (four catches, 81 yards). Other than the lone turnover, the Hogs punted only once, and four different players scored.
They bent but didn’t necessarily break on Saturday. Well, with the exception of Kansas State getting a man so wide open for a touchdown catch that it looked like the Hogs had no secondary out there. Arkansas did hold the Wildcats to more field goals than touchdowns in the red zone, though.
Arkansas held K-State to just 242 yards of total offense, Ryan Pulley had an interception, the Hogs had two sacks and the Wildcats converted only 3-of-10 on third down.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
A 68-yard kickoff return by Collins and a punt downed inside the 20 by Toby Baker saved this grade from being lower. Kansas State blocked an Arkansas field goal attempt, and after giving up one 41-yard Wildcats kick return, Arkansas had to pooch kick the rest of the night. The tackling on special teams was slippery at best, even then.
Arkansas was ready and focused after not playing a live game in more than a month. Any time a team can hold its opponent under 250 total yards while piling 569 of its own is a testament to great preparation by the entire team — and that goes back to coaching. Coach Bret Bielema let his team enjoy the bowl experience while still keeping a business-like approach on the trip.
The Arkansas seniors ended their careers with two winning seasons and two convincing bowl victories. That’s a far cry from the beginning of their careers — which was two coaches ago. They helped bring stability to the program, and Saturday night’s win was a product of their work.
They beat a respectable Big 12 program and finished their season by winning six of their last seven games. They punctuated the dominance of the SEC, which went 8-2 in bowl games — a 6-1 mark for the SEC West.