MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Just in case this ends up being his last college game, Arkansas’ Alex Collins made it one to remember.
Collins ran for 185 yards and three touchdowns and Arkansas capped its late-season surge with a 45-23 victory over Kansas State on Saturday in the Liberty Bowl.
Collins, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards each of the last three seasons, indicated after the game he hadn’t decided whether to return for his senior year or enter the NFL draft.
Ranked 18th to open the season, Arkansas stumbled through a 1-3 start that knocked the Razorbacks out of the Top 25. The Razorbacks (8-5) turned things around won six of their last seven games.
“We’ve been through our ups and downs, but at the end of the day, we wanted to finish strong,” Collins said. “I believe we accomplished that.”
Arkansas snapped Kansas State’s three-game winning streak in front of a sellout crowd of 61,136, the fourth-largest crowd in the game’s 57-year history. Kansas State (6-7) finished a season below .500 for the first time since Bill Snyder began his second stint as coach in 2009.
“Give credit to them,” Snyder said. “They came out and played their game. They didn’t do anything that we hadn’t looked at or hadn’t seen offensively or defensively. They just did it extremely well.”
Arkansas’ Brandon Allen was 20 of 26 for 315 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Kansas State’s Kody Cook, starting at quarterback for the first time, went 12 of 24 for 163 yards with a touchdown.
The game pitted two friends and former colleagues against each other. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema worked as an assistant coach on Snyder’s Kansas State staff from 2002-03. When Arkansas was struggling early this season, Bielema even sought Snyder for advice.
“I love Coach Snyder,” Bielema said. “I love everything about him. A lot of the things in our program are things I learned from him. I’m very blessed to be in this position.”
Snyder added some intrigue to this game by making a quarterback switch.
Cook had been Kansas State’s second-leading receiver during the regular season while also backing up quarterback Joe Hubener. Cook took the first snaps for Kansas State on Saturday and remained the quarterback until the game was out of reach. Snyder said Cook had earned the starting assignment with his practice performance.
Although Cook played well enough to keep Kansas State relatively close, he couldn’t do anything about his defense’s inability to slow down Collins, who was largely responsible for helping Arkansas reach the end zone on three straight first-half drives.
Collins had touchdown runs of 22 yards and 13 yards in the first 17 minutes. His total of three touchdown runs tied a Liberty Bowl record. He also had a 68-yard kickoff return that set up Jared Cornelius’ 13-yard touchdown on an end around.
“The kid is unbelievable,” Arkansas offensive guard Sebastian Tretola said. “He runs angry. He runs mad. The legs never stop.”
Kansas State trailed 31-23 late in the third quarter and appeared ready to make a stop when Arkansas knocked out the Wildcats with a one-two punch.
Facing third-and-13, Allen found All-America tight end Hunter Henry down the left sideline for a 43-yard completion. On the next play, Collins spun away from a couple of defenders, eluded the grasp of a third and dragged a couple of more into the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown with 12:04 remaining.
Kansas State didn’t threaten again.
The game had a scary moment late in the second quarter when Arkansas’ Dominique Reed was carted off the field on a stretcher. Reed lay on the ground for several minutes after making a 15-yard reception. Replays appeared to show him taking a blow to the side of the head at the end of the play. Reed was taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons, but Bielema said the junior receiver was in the locker room after the game.
“He’s got a heck of a headache probably, but he’s alive and well, walking, talking,” Bielema said.
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