The stats that mattered in Arkansas' 29-16 win over Kansas State in last night's AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, from Arkansas' pass rush, to K-State's short span of wizardry, to two defenses living behind the line of scrimmage.
0.9: Average gain per play on Kansas State's first six drives. The Wildcats potentially won the Most Overthought Gameplan Of The Bowl Season award last night. They passed on three of four plays on their first drives, and Collin Klein only attempted two rushes in the first nine plays overall. Later on, with Angelo Pease in the (aptly named for once) Wildcat formation, they had him drop back to pass. (He was sacked.) It seemed as if they gave up on their base plays before the game began and only returned to them when they determined the alternative was much worse. And in their first six drives, they gained 19 yards in 21 plays. They were 2-for-7 passing for eight yards (with two sacks for nine), and their first 12 carries gained just 20 yards. (This says nothing of the 20 yards in penalties they committed in this span.) Both defenses came out intense (Arkansas gained only 40 yards in their first 14 plays), but the Hogs were a bit more successful; they got some help from Kansas State.
7.5: Minutes in which Kansas State scored all of their points. Arkansas dominated a large portion of this game, but from the 4:10 mark of the second quarter to the 11:30 mark of the third, it looked like this was going to be another case of Bill Snyder Wizardry. The Wildcats beat Texas while gaining just 121 yards earlier this season, and in seven different games they won despite being outgained. They fell behind 19-0 on a bomb from Tyler Wilson to Jarius Wright, but Raphael Guidry blocked the point-after attempt (his fifth block of the year), and Nigel Malone returned it for two points. A couple of minutes later, KSU recovered a fumble at the Arkansas 13 and scored a touchdown with 26 seconds left in the half. They took the opening drive of the third quarter and drove for another score. Despite being totally overwhelmed for much of the first half, they were down just 19-16, and it was easy to start thinking "He's going to do it again." But the Wildcats' final four drives went punt-punt-missed field goal-interception, and eventually Arkansas pulled away.
8: Catches by Cobi Hamilton and Greg Childs. Jarius Wright caught a couple of long passes, but as a whole Kansas State did a solid job on the Razorbacks' three most frequent targets. Wright, Joe Adams and tight end Chris Gragg caught just nine of 17 passes for 136 yards overall, and but Arkansas had more quality weapons than KSU had quality defenders. Hamilton and Childs caught eight of 10 passes for 74 yards, and Wilson was able to continue figuring out ways to move the ball down the field.
16.7: Sack rate on Collin Klein's 36 pass attempts. KSU allowed 36 sacks in just 296 pass attempts (a 12.2 percent sack rate) in the regular season, so it was not a surprise that Klein went down a lot. But in playing from behind, with a run game that was almost entirely ineffective (Klein had 18 non-sack carries for 68 yards, John Hubert 12 for 37), the Wildcats' offensive line needed to give Klein more time than he got. It is a testament to his toughness that, as he did all season, Klein kept bouncing back up and fighting. But he had to keep bouncing up, and that was a problem ... especially when his receiving corps was doing him no favors when he did get the pass off. Wildcat receivers had multiple drops, and No. 1 target Chris Harper caught just one of six passes thrown his way. Including sacks, Klein's 36 pass attempts averaged just 4.1 yards. What say you, Arkansas fans?
22: Combined tackles for loss. Each defense racked up 11. While it was easy to focus on the offensive star power in this one -- Collin Klein, Tyler Wilson, Jarius Wright, etc. -- just about every major defensive play-maker had a good game. Kansas State's David Garrett had two tackles for loss, as did Arthur Brown. Star cornerback Nigel Malone had more passes broken up (two) than tackles (0.5) -- always a good sign -- and returned Guidry's blocked PAT for KSU's first points. Meanwhile, Arkansas' Jake Bequette had two sacks, a hurry and a forced fumble, Alonzo Highsmith had two tackles for loss, and Tenarius Wright had three. (D.D. Jones had a star turn as well.) The Hogs did still average 5.7 yards per play, but defenses set the tone in this one, on both sides of the ball. In the end, Arkansas won because they were (predictably) much better at converting on the passing downs into which they consistently fell.