Cotton Bowl Preview: Arkansas Razorbacks

By Brandon Starkey on January 5th, 2012

Arkansas Razorbacks

The day all Wildcat fans have been waiting for is nearly upon us. Rap battles have occurred. Trash talk has circulated the two teams’ message boards. But on January 6th the players will have the final word on which team is the best. It will also be the only match-up between Big 12 and the SEC this season. Therefore, there is a lot at stake in this game and it means more than just one team beating another.

As conference rankings go, the Big 12 has represented better than any conference this bowl season. Collectively, they are 6-1 and can finish no worse than 6-2 (the best of any conference regardless of what happens in the Cotton Bowl). The SEC is obviously an amazing conference. They have won SIX (five currently with one more guaranteed after this year) national titles in a row with four different teams. Many, over, are sick of hearing about how superior the SEC is to the Big 12.

As a conference, the Big 12 played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country. As a whole, it will finish either 38-4 or 37-5 (depending on the result of the Cotton Bowl) which is the best of any conference in the nation.

It is really a shame that there won’t be any other Big 12 vs SEC match-ups this bowl season.  Kansas State will gladly accept this opportunity to prove the doubters wrong and prove to the nation they belonged in a certain bowl game which was played on January 3rd between two much lower-ranked teams. It will not be an easy task as Arkansas is as good as advertised.

2011 Arkansas Season Recap

Game 1: Missouri State (1-0)
Arkansas started the season in style against the Missouri State Bears, winning 51-7. The game was over at half-time as the Razorbacks had jumped in front 30-0. Junior Tyler Wilson and sophomore Brandon Mitchell split reps at QB because of the rout, throwing for a combined 28-35 for 364 yards, and 3 touchdowns. The player of the game was senior wide receiver Joe Adams who had two punt returns for touchdowns.

Game 2: New Mexico (2-0)
The Razorbacks ran the Lobos out of Dodge in this one, ensuring that Brian Mitchell once again got quality playing time as the Hogs won 52-3. The Hogs started strong by scoring on their first possession while taking just two minutes off the clock. Tyler Wilson capped the drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass. The rout continued as the Hogs literally ran all over the Lobos. By the end of the game Arkansas had four rushing touchdowns, two of which came from freshman Kody Walker .

Game 3: Troy (3-0)
Once again, the Razorbacks got off to a fast start by jumping out on the Trojans 31-7. However, using great passing from Corey Robinson of Troy and a key pick-six, the Trojans were able to cut the lead to 31-21. The Hogs held on in the end to win 38-28, not allowing another touchdown until 28 seconds remaining in the game. Tyler Wilson threw for 303 yards and junior half-back Ronnie Wingo, Jr. had his first 100-yard rushing game of the season.

Game 4: @ Alabama (3-1)
The Hogs came out fighting against a very strong Alabama team. The score was 10-7 Alabama until a 25-yard interception return for a touchdown put the Tide in control late in the second quarter. Alabama extended the lead to 31-7 and eventually won by a final score of 38-14. Arkansas never got their running game off the ground and the Tide held Tyler Wilson to 185 yards on 35 passes.

Game 5: Texas A&M in Dallas (4-1)
This was easily the most exciting game of the season for the Razorbacks. It looked like the Aggies were going to run Arkansas out of the building as they jumped out to a 35-17 lead at halftime. But the Razorbacks refused to go down without a fight. Tremendous passing from Tyler Wilson helped the Hogs come back and win 42-38 on a touchdown run with under two minutes remaining the game. Wilson threw for 510 yards in his first experience in Cowboys stadium. This game was most likely the turning point of the Hogs’ season.

Game 6: Auburn (5-1)
Auburn started the game very strongly and ran the ball at will against the Hogs, but the pass defense of the Razorbacks proved to be too much for the Tigers. With the help of three interceptions, the Hogs were able to score 31 unanswered points to win 38-14 against the defending national champions.

Game 7: @ Ole Miss (6-1)
Arkansas’ offense sputtered in this narrow win against one of the worst teams in the SEC. Tyler Wilson accumulated just 232 passing yards on 13-of-28 passing. There are no easy wins in the SEC, but this was without a doubt one of the least impressive wins for the Razorbacks. They dominated the second half, outscoring Ole Miss 22-3, but a very poor first half saw them trailing 17-7 at the break.  Dennis Johnson had a great game for the Hogs, rushing for 160 yards on 15 carries.

Game 8: @ Vanderbilt (7-1)
The Vanderbilt game is usually the easy win of the year for SEC teams, but that was not the case this season. James Franklin (former Kansas State offensive coordinator) turned Vanderbilt to a team to be dealt with. Vandy finished 6-7 and qualified for a bowl game. The Commodores jumped out to a 21-7 lead in the second quarter, but for the third game in a row the razorbacks battled back, outscoring Vandy 24-7 from that point on to win 31-28.

Game 9: South Carolina (8-1)
Arkansas faced off against “The Old Ball Coach” and was able to fight off a very tough South Carolina team, winning a 44-28 battle. Wilson threw for nearly 300 yards again and the Razorback defense put SC quarterback Connor Shaw on his back five times. The Gamecocks made it a game by cutting the lead to 30-28 with 10:30 remaining, but the Razorbacks scored 14 unanswered to seal the victory .

Game 10: Tennessee (9-1)
Great running by Arkansas made Tennessee look like New Mexico. The Hogs were led by Dennis Johnson who ran for 97 yards on just 11 carries as the Hogs beat down the Vols 49-7. The Hogs defense held Tennessee to 138 yards rushing on 42 carries (3.3 ypc).

Game 11: Mississippi State (10-1)
The Hogs ran over, around, and through the Mississippi State Bulldogs, winning 44-17. Mississippi State kept it close early, trailing only 14-10 in the second quarter. Arkansas went on another huge run and outscored the bulldogs 30-7 the rest of the game. Tyler Wilson had another 300+ yard passing performance and the running game for the Hogs continued to improve.

Game 12: @ LSU (10-2)
Arkansas had a lot of momentum coming into this game, having won seven games in a row. The game was a lot closer than the final score would indicate. The Razorbacks kept it close and were down only four (21-17) late in the 3rd quarter.  LSU overpowered Arkansas from that point on, scoring 20 unanswered to win 41-17. Arkansas only managed 1.7 yards per carry for the entire game and LSU got to Tyler Wilson five times while holding him to just 207 passing yards.

Razorback Offense

The passing attack for Arkansas is amazing with junior Tyler Wilson at the helm. Wilson, in his first season as the starter, threw for 3,422 yards and 22 touchdowns while only being intercepted six times. His best game was against a Big 12 defense (Texas A&M). In that game, Wilson threw for over 500 yards. His favorite target is senior Jarius Wright. Wright led the team with 1,029 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. He has been a quality player the past three years for the Razorbacks and is ranked as the ninth-best receiver in this year’s draft class according to draftcountdown.com.

Another key target for Wilson is senior speedster Joe Adams. Adams caught 49 passes 630 yards and three touchdowns. He is ranked as the twelfth-best receiver by draftcountdown.com. However, he is known more for his explosive punt returning skills. This year, he racked up three punt returns for touchdowns, including one against Tennessee that might just be the play of the year. Two other likely receiving threats are Cobi Hamilton (31 receptions for 516 yards and three touchdowns) and junior TE Chris Gagg (40 receptions for 492 yards and two touchdowns).

The running game has been very hit or miss this season but in Arkansas’ defense, they have played elite defenses week in and week out. The Hogs split carries between juniors Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo, Jr. this season. Johnson racked up 637 rushing yards while Wingo added 440. Each added three touchdowns. The two leaders in terms of rushing touchdowns were freshman Kody Walker and senior Broderick Green who had five rushing touchdowns each.

The offensive line for the is enormous. All of the starters (and even the backups!) are at least 6’4″ and 300 lbs.  The two senior linemen are OT Grant Freeman (6’7″ 305 lbs), and OG Grant Cook (6’4″ 318 lbs). The lone junior is 6’4″ 334 lb OT Jason Peacock. Finally, rounding out the line are two sophomores in OG Alvin Bailey (6’5″ 319 lbs), and C Travis Swanson (6’5″ 305 lbs).

Razorback Defense

The defensive line for the Razorbacks is loaded with talented underclassmen. They are led by the lone senior, Jake Bequette (6’5″ 271 SR LE).  Bequette led the team with eight sacks. The rest of the line is composed of freshman Trey Flowers,  sophomore Byran Jones, and fellow sophomore Robert Thomas (Coffeyville CC). Flowers had 28 tackles and 5.5 sacks, while Jones led the line with 45 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Thomas only had 22 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

The linebacking core is a spot of strength for the Razorbacks. With a senior and a junior in the ranks, it is also one of the most experienced spots on the Razorback defense. Senior Jerry Franklin leads the entire team in tackles with 93 and is also second on the team with 10 tackles for loss to compliment his two fumble recoveries. Draftcountdown.com ranks Franklin as the seventh-best Inside Linebacker available for next year’s draft. The other linebacker is JUCO transfer Alonzo Highsmith. Highsmith was third on the team in tackles with 73 and led the team in tackles for loss with 10.5.

The secondary consists of three seniors in Tramain Thomas (6’0″ 198 lb safety), Jerico Nelson (5’10″ 211 lb DB), and Greg Gatson (5’10″ 180 lb CB). Thomas is the team’s second-leading tackler with 87. He leads the team with five interceptions. Nelson has 63 tackles, two sacks, and an interception. Gatson also adds 27 tackles. The underclassmen starters in the secondary are sophomore S Eric Bennett and true freshman CB Tevin Mitchel. Mitchel had an impressive 53 tackles, while Bennett also added 69 tackles and three interceptions.

Razorback Special teams

The kick return unit for the Razorbacks will be the best Kansas State has faced all year. Three separate Razorback players returned kicks for touchdowns this year (WR Joe Adams; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GpAAtFLVV4&feature=related, HB’s Dennis Johnson (98 yard KR TD), and Marquel Wade (85 yard KR TD)).

The kicking is very good for Arkansas as well. They have a kicker who is 18-24 on the year in Zach Hocker and an exceptional punter who is averaging 45.2 yards per punt in Dylan Breeding.

Conclusion

The Razorbacks have a very impressive offense but it’s not something Kansas State hasn’t seen already this season. The Wildcats will have troubles stopping the potent Razorback passing attack but Nigel Malone, Tyson Hartman, and David Garrett weren’t honored by the Big 12 for no reason.

If Arkansas underestimates the defense they will get smacked in the mouth. That being said Arkansas is led by a stellar coach who will not underestimate . should be able to handle the Arkansas rushing attack well enough, but they have to avoid letting Johnson into space as he is a major speedster.

Defensively Arkansas is not as impressive, but they would be a top five defense in the Big 12. They do have troubles stopping the run which is a major problem for a team that is about to face Kansas State.

3 Keys to a Wildcat Victory

The Prediction

I really do like this match-up for K-State. Arkansas is extremely talented, and no one should be stunned much at all if they beat the Wildcats by two-plus scores. But I don’t think it will happen. The Wildcats have seen big-time offenses before and have done just fine, save for the Oklahoma disaster. In terms of sheer numbers, K-State was gashed by Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma State, but the defense played a great “bend but don’t break” strategy. They created turnovers when they needed to and came up with big stops.

The last time K-State played in the Cotton Bowl they were given no chance to beat almighty Tennessee. The experts were right, K-State didn’t beat Tennessee…they destroyed them.

I don’t feel K-State will destroy Arkansas and they do deserve to be underdogs, but I feel the Wildcats will shock the country by beating Arkansas 33-30.