Brought to you one final time this season courtesy of Bob Marley, Tito's Vodka, and the inevitability of Alex Collins. Through three seasons that have come and gone entirely too quickly, Collins has defied his mama, stood in the shadows of Jonathan Williams, and battled ball-security issues, and has done it all with a smile plastered on his face and feet that compulsively lie about which direction the rest of his body is headed. He is quantitatively the second-best running back ever to play at the University of Arkansas, and if you deny him that title based on your own qualitative analysis, we'll just have to disagree. Because for my money, there has never been a better running back at Arkansas not named Darren McFadden.
This Liberty Bowl was not a sexy match-up. It wasn't a rivalry rekindled like the 2014 Texas Bowl. Kansas State is a respected program, but not a name Arkansas fans have any natural hatred for. The Wildcats didn't have a particularly great season, either, coming in as decided underdogs and sporting a record worse than the Razorbacks Winning would be critical, as it always is in a bowl game, but in order to make this one memorable, winning wouldn't be enough. This game needed individual performances to make an impression on the fan base. Efforts that make Razorback fans excited to see what a player might accomplish in 2016, or, conversely, reflect upon how much a player would be missed.
The Razorbacks delivered, and fans will remember. Or at least they should, because 45 points, 569 yards and eight yards a play in the form of a ball-control offense is something to behold. Fans should remember Jeremy Sprinkle sprinting through the open field like a damned gazelle after catching yet another bootleg pass from Brandon Allen. They should remember Hunter Henry and Drew Morgan getting themselves open time and time again just when Arkansas needed a big play. They should remember Alex Collins running harder than anyone in Memphis since Mitchell McDeere stood up to Bendini, Lambert, and Locke. Sure, Tom Cruise kept us on the edge of our seat during that chase scene through Mud Island, but did he break five tackles in 14 yards? I DON'T THINK SO. Finally, fans should remember Brandon Allen's Liberty Bowl performance, but they probably won't. The play that most will remember is the interception he threw on the first drive of the game, simply because it was so uncharacteristic. The 20-26 for 315 yards? That's just his game. That's what he does. Has any other Razorback in history given their legacy such a complete 180 over the course of two seasons? From having his truck torched to torching secondaries with such regularity that a 300-yard game results in absolutely zero fanfare. That is one world class edit of the history books.
Defensively, Arkansas was solid if unspectacular, limiting Kansas State to 79 rushing yards and only 242 total yards. Even with its limited output, the excellent field position the Wildcats enjoyed the entire game aided in their four trips into the red zone, where they were forced to settle for field goals on three of those trips. Those three stops by the Arkansas defense are what enabled the Razorbacks to obtain, protect, and eventually extend their lead. Outside of a late interception by freshman Ryan Pulley and a touchdown saving pass breakup by Henre Tolliver, there weren't many memorable defensive moments. Again, solid but unspectacular, but when you have an offense like Arkansas', that's all you need against a team like Kansas State. Still, it was hard to watch the Hogs' defensive line struggle to get to Kody Cook without dreaming about the impact McTelvin Agim will hopefully make next season. Arkansas has had an embarrassment of riches at defensive line over the past few seasons, and because of that, the inability of that unit to get to the quarterback perhaps stood out more than it would have otherwise.
I'm not even going to talk about field goals. I'm not going to do it because Arkansas still won and I made some New Years resolutions about blood pressure and anger management and being a better person, and we are only three days into 2016 and I won't give up on them until at least another week or so. So I'm not going to talk about field goals. But fields goals, man.
So, let's reset everything. Arkansas came into 2015 with a Top 20 ranking and aspirations of an SEC West title. The Hogs then lost to Toledo and Texas Tech and had to endure the withering derision of all those national pundits who had latched onto them in the preseason and promulgated all that hype. Lesson learned, they said. They wouldn't be fooled into buying into Bert and his Hogs again, they said. Those Hogs just finished the season 6-1 with road wins over the Sugar Bowl and Texas Bowl champions, a home win over the Birmingham Bowl champion, and a three-touchdown victory in their own bowl game. None of that will matter, though, because despite winning just one more game than Arkansas while enjoying a laughable SEC East slate (not to mention losing at home to the Hogs), Tennessee will be the team that enjoys favored status in the offseason. They'll be called contenders, if not favorites, while Arkansas will be spoken of as a spoiler. Them's the breaks when you lose to Toledo. It's not fair, but neither is the SEC West.
The national media may define the Razorbacks' 2015 season by what happened in September, but it's certainly not how I will remember it. Even if Arkansas had beaten Toledo and Texas Tech and Texas A&M, they were not going to overtake Alabama. This wasn't a championship season spoiled. So why dwell on it? I won't. I will remember standing in the south endzone of Neyland Stadium, screaming my fool head off as Brandon Allen kneeled on the ball to secure a win there for the first time in 23 years. I will remember pacing in the concourse of Razorback Stadium between overtime periods against Auburn before racing back to my seat to watch Drew "Waffle House" Morgan dip his shoulder and evade a tackle and take a Superman leap across the goal line. I will remember the tense silence and chaotic euphoria that was the entire Ole Miss game. 4th and 25. The facemask. The resolve of Bert and Brandon Allen in dictating that game be decided right there, in that moment. I will remember watching this team travel to Baton Rouge and evacuating Tiger Stadium more effectively than a bad batch of boudin, the lightning strike touchdown runs of Alex Collins and Jared Cornelius. I'll remember how much fun that Mississippi State game was, even in defeat. I'll remember sitting on Missouri for four quarters.
And I will remember the Liberty Bowl. I will remember going nuts over Alex Collins' last touchdown run. The inevitability of it, regardless of how many tacklers he had to take on. That was fun. Yesterday was fun. This season was fun.
I'll see y'all next year.
Trent Wooldridge will be that guy with enough bourbon. He loves the S-E-C chant and honks because he hates Texas. He puts honey on his pizza, demands aisle seats, and sees quitting golf as more of a hobby than actually playing golf. Follow @twooldridge and track his quest to transform his five-year-old into a southpaw ace in the bigs.