MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Alex 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.
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.
Collins overwhelmed Kansas State’s defense 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.
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.
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.
He played well enough to keep Kansas State relatively close. But he couldn’t do anything about the 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. He also had a 68-yard burst on his first kickoff return of the season, which set upJared Cornelius’ 13-yard touchdown on an end around.
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 more into the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown.
Kansas State wouldn’t threaten again.
The game had a scary moment late in the second quarter when Arkansas wide receiver 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.