Explosive returner Joe Adams had one last big highlight to help No. 7 Arkansas end a record-tying season in tall Cotton.
All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson was well short of the record passing performance he had earlier this season at Cowboys Stadium, but did throw two touchdown passes after Adams’ fourth punt return for a TD and the Razorbacks beat No. 11 Kansas State 29-16 in the Cotton Bowl on Friday night.
The Razorbacks (11-2) matched a school record with their 11th victory. Their only losses were to No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama, their SEC West rivals who will play for the BCS national championship Monday night.
“Joe Adams has made big plays for us all year long,” Wilson said. “We were struggling offensively until he sparked us. Great players make big plays, and he definitely got his.”
Adams’ 51-yard return early in the second quarter gave the Razorbacks a 10-0 lead before they even gained a first down. It was the first punt return for a touchdown in the Cotton Bowl in 51 years.
“It was another one of those where you just go, Wow!” coach Bobby Petrino said. “You could see when he made the catch he had in mind what he was going to do. We got some good blocks. … Joe showed great acceleration, made another spectacular play for us.”
Adams matched the SEC single-season record with his four punt return TDs. The senior receiver, who had five catches for only 22 yards Friday, was the only FBS player this season with multiple punt returns for TDs, along with rushing and receiving scores.
After fielding the ball near midfield, Adams took a few steps back before squirting through a gap past several defenders. He got all the way to the opposite sideline and got his path cleared by one last block from Javontee Herndon downfield.
“It obviously made a major difference,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. “We knew he’s a talented player. We knew that he could make you miss him. …. The players were probably tired of me talking about being able to contain Joe Adams and not let him bounce the ball outside. Sure enough he bounced it outside.”
The last punt return for a touchdown in the Cotton Bowl also was by a Razorback, when Lance Alworth had a 49-yard return in a 7-6 loss to Duke in the 1961 game.
The only other 11-win seasons for the Razorbacks were by the Lou Holtz-coached team in 1977 and coach Frank Broyles’ only undefeated season at Arkansas in 1964. They won 10 games last season with a Sugar Bowl appearance.
“To get this program consistently in the top 10, in BCS bowl games, great bowl games like the Cotton Bowl, hopefully in the top five in the country with 11 wins, it means so much to me personally, and to this group of seniors,” defensive end Jake Bequette said. “It’s just been such a fun ride.”
A member of that 1964 team that won the Cotton Bowl over Nebraska was Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys owner who attended the game in his $1.2 billion stadium that opened in 2009. He was part of a loud crowd of 80,956.
Kansas State also was trying to match its school record with 11 victories, but still finished a surprising season in Snyder’s second Wildcats turnaround. K-State won 11 games six times during a seven-year span in Snyder’s first tenure before his three-year retirement, and almost reached that mark again in his third season back.
– Associated Press –