Cotton Bowl Recap: Arkansas Razorbacks Squash Kansas State
The Arkansas Razorbacks defeated the Kansas State Wildcats 29-16 in Cowboys Stadium in front of famous alumnus and current Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. The Razorbacks were powered by their stringent defense, which held the Wildcats in check throughout the game. Here's how it happened:
When Arkansas Had the Ball:
Offensively, Arkansas was not its usual dominant self for much of the first half. In fact, the Razorbacks did not record their initial first down until the 12:38 mark of the second quarter. However, special teams and defense picked up the slack. A defensive fumble recovery gave the Razorbacks the ball inside the Wildcats’ 15-yard line. Despite its early offensive struggles, by virtue of the tremendous field position, Arkansas would convert the opportunity into a field goal.
It would score once again near the start of the second quarter behind an electrifying 51-yard punt return touchdown by Joe Adams (the SEC Special Teams Player of the Year). Late in the first half, quarterback Tyler Wilson finally showcased the offense’s big-play potential with a 45-yard touchdown strike to his favorite receiver, senior Jarius Wright. On the ensuing possession and deep inside his own territoy, Wilson turned the ball over to Kansas St., for all intents and purposes negating his previous touchdown pass.
In the second half, Wilson completed 11 of 16 yards for 133 yards. While the Razorbacks offense was never completely unleashed, it clearly performed well enough to win.
When Kansas State Had the Ball:
The Wildcats offense struggled mightily in the first half. Although Kansas St. was a run-heavy team this season, it passed on three of its first four plays. The first attempt was completed for a 13-yard pass, but the offensive success was short-lived. The Wildcats produced just 59 yards of total offense in the first half.
The Razorbacks defense was tenacious with its most notable accomplishment deriving from its ability to stifle the run. Wildcat quarterback Klein had run for 1099 yards and 26 touchdowns during the season, but by halftime, he was only able to muster 14 yards on the ground. The Wildcats were plagued by a couple of dropped passes, but most of the credit should go to the Razorbacks defense. Like Wilson, Klein fumbled the ball deep in his own territory during the first half.
To open the second half, Klein and the Wildcats made a strong statement. Fueled by the run (5 runs and 2 passes), the Wildcats pulled within three points at 19-16 by going 60 yards in three minutes and 22 seconds. On the drive, Kansas St. played with confidence and Klein ran all over the field. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they could not replicate this success and finished with 16 points.
First Half Offenses Fueled by Defense and Special Teams:
Each quarterback fumbled at his team’s own 13-yard line due to a hard hit from the opposing defense. For Arkansas, the fumble recovery resulted in an early 3-0 lead. Down 19-2, Kansas was able to turn its recovery into a touchdown when Klein connected with little-used tight end Andre McDonald on a four-yard pass. Technically, the points were scored on offense, but the Wildcats first half offense was so inept that it would not have scored the touchdown if its defense had not handed it prime field position, inside the red zone.
Earlier in the game, with the Wildcats still scoreless, they got on the board thanks to Raphael Guidry’s fifth blocked kick of the season. Not only did the blocked PAT prevent the Razorbacks from taking a 20-0 lead, but it also gave the Wildcats their first two points when the blocked kick was returned for the two-point conversion. In the NFL, after a blocked kick, the play is whistled dead. Per NCAA rules, Nigel Malone was allowed to return the blocked kick for two points.
Stat of the Game:
The Razorbacks did a phenomenal job defending the Wildcats, primarily because of the intense pressure they brought throughout the game. Arkansas sacked Klein six times, and that is easily the most important statistic of the game. The pressure limited Klein to 41 rushing yards, well under his average of nearly 92 rushing yards per game.
Tyler Wilson truly earned the Fischman MVP. Although the Razorbacks offense was held in check for much of the first half, he maintained his composure and threw a critical 45-yard touchdown pass to Wright to put his team up by 19 points with a little more than four minutes remaining in the second quarter. Wilson’s masterful third quarter touchdown drive was also the turning point in the game. How could he not be MVP?
Senior DE Jake Bequette ended his Arkansas career in dominant fashion, sacking Klein twice and forcing a first quarter fumble that led to three points for the Razorbacks.
Senior WR Jarius Wright similarly went out with a bang, as he made three catches for 88 yards and a touchdown. The impressive effort was nothing new for Wright, who racked up 1,029 receiving yards and 11 TDs this season.
Joe Adams, whose punt return gave Arkansas its first touchdown of the night.
Former Trojans running back Broderick Green who iced the game for the Razorbacks with his two 15+ yard runs, late in the fourth quarter.
With Arkansas’ one-time 19-point lead down to three points, Wilson led a critical 9-play, 58-yard touchdown drive. On the third quarter drive, Wilson completed five of seven attempts for 56 yards. Facing a third and 12 from the 24-yard line, the Arkansas quarterback connected with Greg Childs on a 15-yard completion to bring the Razorbacks within 10 yards of a touchdown. Three plays later, Wilson found junior Cobi Hamilton in the end zone to increase the team’s lead to 26-16.
Wildcats' Improbable Season Ends in Disappointment:
Friday’s Cotton Bowl loss puts a slight damper on what otherwise was a tremendous season for the Wildcats. Picked to finish eighth in the Big 12, Bill Snyder's squad placed second in a competitive conference that boasts the likes of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor. It will finish the year with a 10-3 record, having only lost to Oklahoma State, Arkansas and Oklahoma. In fact, the Wildcats nearly upset the Oklahoma State Cowboys in game that was tied at 45 until the Cowboys’ late touchdown run. Although Kansas St. would have loved to get the W, it can be proud of the fact that it increased its win total from 7 to 10. The next step, however, will be to win a bowl game, something the Wildcats have not done since the 2002 Holiday Bowl.
Arkansas Could See Top 5 Ranking:
Arkansas’ win caps off an extraordinary season for the Razorbacks, whose only losses came against the BCS National Championship teams, the LSU Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide. Despite a rule forbidding three teams from the same conference from appearing in a BCS Bowl (the presence of LSU and Alabama in the BCS title game forced Arkansas into the Cotton Bowl), Arkansas will still most likely finish in the top 5 of the BCS rankings when all is said and done. With the win, the Razorbacks have now increased their win total in each of their four years under Coach Bobby Petrino. Now, that’s impressive!