Saturday, January 7, 2012
Hogs give K-State a taste of its medicine
By David Ubben
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Arkansas punt returner Joe Adams made one quick cut through a wall of Kansas State defenders and sprinted toward the sideline before turning upfield.
Around 40 or so yards later, Adams crossed the goal line and emphatically slammed the ball into the Cowboys Stadium turf.
The Hogs were rolling. They led by double digits. The red half of the 80,956 in attendance was going hog wild.
All that, and Arkansas' offense hadn't even recorded a first down yet on the way to its 29-16 victory over the Wildcats in Friday night's AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic.
So much for Snyderball.
QB Tyler Wilson helped Arkansas win 11 games for the first time in 34 seasons.
Arkansas showed up to the Cotton Bowl and K-Stated K-State.
"That's why it's a team game," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. "Our defense gave us three points right off the bat. Special teams scored seven."
All season, Kansas State's physical running offense plodded along to a ninth-place finish in total offense in the pass-happy Big 12 while an opportunistic defense and special teams waited for opponents to make mistakes.
Earlier this season, the Wildcats won four consecutive games as an underdog while also being outgained.
This time, against Arkansas, Kansas State made the mistakes it had collected from opponents all season.
"We got off to an awfully bad start and really couldn't overcome the damage that we did," said K-State's 72-year-old coaching savant, Bill Snyder, "and most of it was pretty obvious."
Yeah, it was.
On the game's second possession, Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette slipped into the backfield and stripped Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein from behind, but Arkansas' offense couldn't capitalize on the great field position and settled for a 26-yard field goal.
The Wildcats fielded an Arkansas punt on the next possession at the 3-yard line, getting stuffed at the 4 and tightening up an offense that was bothered by dropped passes for much of the first half.
A predictable three-and-out followed to set up Adams' key return.
"It obviously made a major difference. How did I like it? I didn't like it a bit," Snyder said. "But, you know, we knew he's a talented player. We knew that he could make you miss him. We knew they were probably tired of me talking about being able to contain Joe Adams and not let him bounce the ball outside. Sure enough, he bounced it outside.
"But he's a very, very talented player. That's not the first time he's done that."
In fact, it was the fifth time -- and fourth this season, an SEC single-season record. That was highlighted by a work of art against Tennessee in which Adams made approximately 52 tacklers miss on the way to an impossible return that might be the greatest highlight of the 2011 season.
"It was another one of those where you just go, 'Wow!" Petrino said. "You could see when he made the catch he had in mind what he was going to do. ... Joe showed great acceleration, made another spectacular play for us."
Kansas State's special teams wizardry was muted. Ralph Guidry blocked his fifth kick of the season. Nigel Malone scooped up the extra point and ran it back for two points, but it wasn't enough. The Wildcats' answer for Adams, kick returner Tyler Lockett, dressed but didn't play after suffering a lacerated kidney. He ran back two kicks for scores and emerged as the Big 12's most dangerous special teams player this season. He could only watch as Adams did to his team what he'd done to so many others in 2011.
"The difference in the game was how well we played on defense and the field position we were able to give our offense," Petrino said.
Kansas State's running game was mostly unproductive foot-shuffling that got it nowhere. The Wildcats carried the ball 40 times for just 86 yards and gave up six sacks.
As in so many other games this season, the Wildcats were outgained. This time, it was 345-260. Unlike in so many other games this season, Kansas State couldn't find a way to win. Early mistakes made sure it hardly had a chance. It climbed back to 19-16 before Arkansas' offense, the best in the SEC, started to click.
"This game was about we need to stop this run, stop this quarterback. We tightened them up," Petrino said. "Once it became third down, [our defensive ends] widened out and teed off, made huge plays for us, the turnover early and the sacks."
The mistakes were too much. On an off night for Kansas State's offense, it had far from enough.
Kansas State and Arkansas left Dallas with a pair of memorable double-digit-victory seasons, but Arkansas, like the three SEC teams in this game before it, will look back fondly on the finale.
"We really wanted to get them 11 wins," said Petrino, who has won 21 games in the past two seasons, giving Arkansas its first 11-win season since 1977 and third in program history. "Make sure that everybody remembered this football team."