Saturday, January 02, 2016

Arkansas Razorbacks: 2016 Liberty Bowl Champions



MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The biggest storyline coming into Saturday's Autozone Liberty Bowl was the relationship between the two head coaches, Bill Snyder and Bret Bielema. Afterward, it was all about Alex Collins.

The Arkansas running back rushed for 185 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Razorbacks past Kansas State 45-23.

In what was a scary moment late in the first half, Arkansas wide receiver Dominique Reed had to be carted off the field after he sustained an apparent head/neck injury. After the game Bielema said Reed was fine, but had been "knocked out."

What this win means for Arkansas: As an Arkansas fan, you can look at this season in two ways. One, the Razorbacks finished strong, winning six of their final seven games, including Saturday's bowl win. But there's always the what if? What if they didn't lose early to Toledo and Texas Tech? What if they hung on to second-half leads against Texas A&M, Alabama and Mississippi State? Regardless, just like last year, the bowl win will give this team momentum heading into 2016. It's clear Bielema has Arkansas moving in the right direction.

What this loss means for Kansas State: Give Snyder and this Wildcats team credit. They battled. Despite a former junior college wide receiver starting at quarterback -- Kody Cook played pretty well by the way -- they scored points and kept the game close until the fourth quarter. They were just outmatched at the end of the day. The 77-year-old Snyder intends to return in 2016, and that means Kansas State will once again be competitive.

Player of the game: OK, you already know this one. What a day for Collins. The junior has yet to declare early for the NFL, but it might be a foregone conclusion after Saturday. Just have NFL scouts go look at his touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. He broke five tackles as he powered through the Kansas State defense on a 14-yard touchdown run. With the score, Collins set the Arkansas single-season record with 20 touchdowns on the year. He also moved into second all-time with 3,703 career rushing yards.

Unsung hero: Collins stole the show, but Arkansas tight end Jeremy Sprinkle did his part in the victory. Playing second fiddle to Hunter Henry all season, Sprinkle has never gotten the credit he probably deserves. But the junior tight end finished with four catches for 81 yards and a touchdown and proved that if Henry opts to leave early for the NFL, the Razorbacks will be just fine at the tight end position next season.

Top play: There's open, and then there's Winston Dimel on this play. The Kansas State fullback must have been hiding behind his offensive lineman prior to the snap because when he slipped out to run a route, nobody on Arkansas picked him up. He was almost surprised with how open he was, but he caught the pass and took it in for a 48-yard touchdown, his second of the day.
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