Liberty Bowl preview: Can Kansas State handle Arkansas's physical rushing attack?
Arkansas (7-5) vs. Kansas State (6-6)
Jan. 2, 3:20 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Reason to watch
Arkansas can win eight games for the first time since 2011, when it won 11 in Bobby Petrino’s final season. The Razorbacks opened this season 2–4 before rattling off four straight wins in remarkable fashion, including a four-overtime victory against Auburn and a victory against No. 18 Ole Miss that featured a crazy lateral by tight end Hunter Henry.
Kansas State has also endured a roller-coaster season. The Wildcats won their first three games, but six straight losses threw their bowl eligibility into question. A come-from-behind win over West Virginia in the regular-season finale clinched a bowl berth for Kansas State, and now Bill Snyder has a chance for his eighth bowl win in 17 tries.
Keep an eye on: Kansas State’s quarterback situation
Junior quarterback Joe Hubener was injured in the win over West Virginia and was replaced by Kody Cook, a senior wideout with the second-most receiving yards on the team. The Wildcats have played coy about who will line up under center on Saturday, and if that gamesmanship wasn’t enough of a challenge for the Razorbacks, they’ll have to account for a versatile athlete in Cook--who this season caught 27 passes for 412 yards and three touchdowns while completing 18 of 42 pass attempts for 284 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. In that win over West Virginia, he ran for a touchdown and recorded a 77-yard passing score.
Did you know...?
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema and Snyder have a longstanding relationship. The Hall of Famer gave Bielema his first defensive coordinator job at Kansas State (2002-03). Bielema discussed his decision to call Snyder for advice earlier this season.
“The mentoring he did and the guidance that he gave me, I still use today,” Bielema told reporters earlier this week, “as a daily influence of work ethic, attitude, dealing with young men and holding the responsibility of coaches. The day I left him was a very sad day. To this day, of all the coaches I’ve worked for, I probably have as close a relationship with coach Snyder as anyone.”
Considering the uncertainty at quarterback, Kansas State figures to try beating Arkansas at its own game: a physical rushing attack. Charles Jones is the Wildcats’ workhorse; he has rushed for 656 yards on 136 attempts this season.
The Razorbacks finished sixth in the SEC with 192.6 rushing yards per game and are led by junior running back Alex Collins, who rushed 248 times for 1,392 yards and 17 touchdowns. Arkansas has also proven efficient in its passing game, with senior quarterback Brandon Allen completing 65% of his throws for 3,125 yards, 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
That well-rounded attack could prove too difficult for Kansas State to match up with. Overall, Arkansas ranks 27th in the country with 35.2 points scored per game, while Kansas State ranks 88th with 30.3 points allowed per game.