DALLAS, Texas (UofA) - The 7th-ranked University of Arkansas football team defeated 11th-ranked Kansas State, 29-16, Friday night in Cowboys Stadium to win the 76th annual AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic. With the win, the Razorbacks finish the season with an 11-2 record. It is only the third 11 win season in school history and ties the school record for wins in a season.
The victory also gives the Razorbacks two bowl wins in the last three seasons, marking the third time in school history Arkansas has won two bowl games in a three-year span.
Arkansas, which never trailed in the game, got a stellar performance from its defense that held the Wildcats to only 87 yards on the ground, 2.2 yards per rush and also recorded seven sacks.
Offensively, Tyler Wilson led the way, going 20-for-31 for 216 yards and two touchdowns. Seven Razorbacks also recorded catches in the game with Jarius Wright topping all receivers with three catches for 88 yards and one score.
Both teams played to a stalemate well into the first quarter, but the Razorback defense came up huge on Kansas State's second drive of the game. After penalties pushed the Wildcat offense back to their own 20-yard line, senior Jake Bequette dropped quarterback Collin Klein in the backfield and knocked the ball loose. Tenarius Wright found himself in the right place and fell on the ball to put Arkansas back on offense with good field position.
Kicker Zach Hocker capitalized on the ensuing possession, kicking a 26-yard field goal and giving Arkansas a 3-0 lead with 4:19 to go in the first half. The field goal by the sophomore was his 19th of the season.
Two possessions later, this time in the second quarter, the Arkansas defense, again, had Kansas State deep in their own end zone and forced them to punt. Senior Joe Adams, who already had three punt returns for a touchdown this season, streaked to his fourth of the year from 51 yards out and gave the Razorbacks a two score lead at 10-0 with 14:27 to go in the second quarter.
Adams' touchdown return tied him for the SEC single-season record for punt return touchdowns and was the fifth of his career, which ties for third in SEC history with Vanderbilt's Lee Nalley.
With the defense continuing to have a strong half, the Razorbacks held the Wildcats to their third straight three-and-out and were able to start their offensive drive on the right side of the 50. On the first play from scrimmage, Dennis Johnson rumbled off a 28-yard run to the Kansas State 26-yard line, his longest run of the half. The Arkansas offense then pushed the ball inside the 10-yard line, where Hocker split the uprights on his second field goal of the night. The 22-yard boot pushed the UA lead to 13-0 with 9:20 to play in the first half.
The Razorbacks lit up the scoreboard again on their next possession as the offense got its first touchdown of the game on the back of a 45-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Wright. With plenty of protection in the backfield, Wilson heaved the ball downfield to Wright, who hauled it in for his 12th scoring catch of the year. With six added points, the Razorbacks had a19-0 lead with 4:10 to play before halftime.
The catch by Wright gave him 2,934 career receiving yards and broke the Arkansas career receiving yards record previously held by Anthony Lucas, who had 2,879 receiving yards throughout his career.
As Hocker attempted the extra point, a Wildcat lineman blocked the kick and the loose ball was then returned by Nigel Malone into the Arkansas end zone for two points. That return cut into the lead ever so slightly at 19-2 with the Razorbacks still out in front.
KSU was able to take the momentum from those points three possessions later and score on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Klein to Andre McDonald to make it 19-9 entering halftime.
Much of the Razorbacks first half success can be credited to its defense that held the Wildcat offense to only 60 yards of total offense and recorded three sacks. Bequette's sack early in the first quarter gave him nine for the season. He added one more in the third quarter to pull to an even 10 for the year.
Kansas State added seven more points on its first possession of the second half to make it 19-16, but the Razorbacks answered with a touchdown of their own in the form of a 9-yard pass from Wilson to Cobi Hamilton. After starting the drive on their own 42-yard line, Wilson captained the offense down the field in 11 plays and 58 yards and put UA back up 26-16 with 3:57 to play in the third quarter. The touchdown toss by Wilson was his second of the night and 24th of the season.
The score stayed the same for much of the remainder of the game, but Arkansas did add three more points off the foot of Hocker, who converted his third field goal of the night from 30 yards out to extend the Razorback lead to 29-16 with 3:30 to play in the fourth quarter. The score would stay that way to the final horn.