Arkansas recently hired a new defensive coordinator, Paul Haynes from Ohio State.
In the rare situation of a 10-win team firing a coordinator, the Razorbacks needed to make a change on the defensive side of the ball. The offense had been carrying Arkansas for several years, and the defense seemed to be holding it back.
With Haynes now on board, Friday night's Cotton Bowl was a different story for the Razorback football team.
This time, it was the Arkansas defense and special teams leading the way, as the offense had a pedestrian outing by its standards.
No. 6 Arkansas beat No. 8 Kansas State 29-16 to earn its school record-tying 11th win of the season.
The Razorback defense looked revamped and played with purpose. New coordinator Haynes had it in position and playing strong fundamental football, which is something you hadn't always seen from this group in the past.
To realize what a strong performance this was, look at the rushing yards by Kansas State.
Before this game, the Wildcats ranked 25th in the nation in offensive rushing yards per game, with an impressive 193 rush yards per outing.
Six times this season, half of the team's games, KSU ran for over 200 yards on the ground. As a matter of fact, it ran for less than 130 yards just one time all season.
Kansas State rolled up 276 rushing yards against Oklahoma State, 265 against Miami and a big 182 against Oklahoma.
In the bowl game against Arkansas, the Wildcats managed just 86 yards rushing.
That is an incredible and surprising outcome for the Razorback defense, when you consider that it was allowing 167 rushing yards per game this year.
Arkansas, under previous coordinator Willy Robinson, gave up 197 rushing yards or more in six games this year, including 286 rush yards to LSU in its last outing.
The turnaround in rush defense we saw from this unit, with new coordinator Haynes in place, was the story of this game.
Senior defensive end Jake Bequette had two key sacks and forced a fumble, senior linebacker Jerry Franklin racked up eight tackles and senior defensive back Jake Nelson added seven tackles in the secondary.
While veterans led the charge in this game, young playmakers like defensive linemen Trey Flowers and Bryan Jones, linebacker Alonzo Highsmith and defensive back Ross Rasner will be back next season. Arkansas even had Junior D.D. Smith making a tackle behind the line of scrimmage without his helmet.
This defensive group was battling hard all game long.
If Paul Haynes can rebuild this group and have it playing like it did on Friday night in the Cotton Bowl, the Razorbacks may finally have solid play on both sides of the ball and be in position to challenge for a championship.
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