SEC: Nigel Malone



ARLINGTON, Texas -- Arkansas punt returner Joe Adams made one quick cut between 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.

[+] EnlargeTyler Wilson
Tim Heitman/US PresswireQB 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 long, 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 year long.

"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 year. 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 this season. He ran back two kicks for scores and emerged as the Big 12's most dangerous special-teams player. 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.

Like so many other games this season, the Wildcats were outgained. This time, it was 345-260. Unlike 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, as 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."

Arkansans will. And so will Kansas State.

AT&T Cotton Bowl

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
11:41
PM ET
Kansas State Wildcats (10-2) vs. Arkansas Razorbacks (10-2)

Jan. 6, 8 p.m. (FOX)

Kansas State take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: Kansas State does it ugly. All the time, every time. But it does it. The Cats are college football's biggest overachievers, and they do it on the back of Collin Klein, who has dragged defenders on his 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame for 1,099 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns. By the way, he's the quarterback. Never mind his wonky delivery. He's gotten better and more accurate as the season has gone on, and somehow has stayed healthy. He just might be the toughest player in college football, and if you're watching K-State's offense, he's probably the guy with the ball in his hand.

Bill Snyder deserves the national coach of the year nod, and the Wildcats have had a defensive renaissance under coordinator Chris Cosh in 2011. This is the same team that gave up more than 3,000 rushing yards last year. Well, sort of. It's not quite the same team. Linebacker Arthur Brown doesn't miss very many tackles and he's one of the Big 12's speediest linebackers. Cornerback Nigel Malone picked off seven passes this year for an All-Big 12 caliber season.


Arkansas take from SEC blogger Edward Aschoff: Before the season, it looked as if coach Bobby Petrino was equipped with his best, most complete team since his arrival in Fayetteville. The defense was easily the best he had, and while quarterback Ryan Mallett was gone, Tyler Wilson appeared to be just as talented, and with their wealth at wide receiver, it didn’t look like the Razorbacks would miss a beat in the passing game. Not to mention Arkansas had one of the SEC’s best in running back Knile Davis.

But days before the season began, the Hogs were dealt a crushing blow when Davis went down with a season-ending ankle injury. With Davis sidelined, the Arkansas offense became more one-dimensional as it searched for a consistent running back. Injuries then took hold of the defense and the Hogs found themselves outmanned in a huge game with Alabama, losing 38-14. The Razorbacks then struggled to get going in the first half of games after that. The slow starts nearly cost them at Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, but things changed during their homecoming game with South Carolina.

The Hogs jumped out quickly against the Gamecocks and never looked back. Starting with that 44-28 win, the Razorbacks won their first three games in November by a combined score of 137-52. Arkansas had an opportunity to shake up the BCS and sneak into the national championship, but fell 41-17 to No. 1 LSU in its season finale. Still, Arkansas had another fine year under Petrino, getting to 10 wins and finishing first in the SEC in total offense (445.8 yards per game).

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