FAYETTEVILLE – Alex Collins spent the entire regular season proving time and again he was up to the challenge of being Arkansas’ lead running back.
The Razorbacks junior saved one of his most complete performances for what could have been his final home game on Friday, a rain-soaked 28-3 win that likely ended the Missouri career of coach Gary Pinkel.
Behind Collins’ 130 yards rushing and three touchdowns, Arkansas (7-5, 5-3 Southeastern Conference) won for the fifth time in six games — securing its first winning SEC record since 2011.
The victory capped an up-and-down regular season for the Razorbacks, who rebounded from a 1-3 start to finish with a winning conference record for only the eighth time since joining the SEC in 1992.
“I wasn’t in a panic mode,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said of the slow start. “I knew we had a good team. I knew we were going to be able to do some things, and then to come out and play the way we have and to play as clean as we have, it’s been a learning experience for me.”
Leading the way for Arkansas’ resurgence was Collins, who had touchdown runs of 4, 7 and 25 yards in the convincing win and topped the 100-yard rushing mark for the ninth time this season. Collins now has 17 rushing touchdowns on the season, tied for second in school history behind Bill Burnett’s 19 in 1969, and he finished with a career-high 30 carries in the win.
Collins now has 3,518 yards rushing for his career, and he’s 53 yards away from moving into second place on the school’s all-time rushing yardage list — behind only two-time Doak Walker Award winner Darren McFadden.
Not bad for someone who only took over the lead running role following teammate Jonathan Williams’ preseason foot injury, and who is now very possibly headed to the NFL following his third straight 1,000-yard rushing season.
“I haven’t made a decision about that yet,” Collins said. “(Being emotional after the game) was just more so for the seniors, because it was going to be my last time playing with those guys here at the stadium. It’s just more of a dedication game for them.”
While Collins shined, the Tigers (5-7, 1-7) inept offense once again struggled mightily — failing to score in double digits for the sixth time this season.
Pinkel, who announced earlier this month he was resigning after the season following a diagnosis of lymphoma in May, shouldered the blame for Missouri’s lack of focus afterward. Missouri failed to score a touchdown for the fourth time in eight SEC games, and it finished with 171 yards of total offense, compared to 310 for the Razorbacks.
“Obviously, I didn’t want it to end this way,” Pinkel said. “I also knew that the players were not focused like they needed to be, and I had a challenge to get that done.”
Pinkel finished his 25 seasons as a head coach at both Toledo and Missouri with an overall record of 191-110-3, and he’s the all-time winningest coach for the Tigers — finishing 117-70 in 15 seasons at Missouri.
Drew Lock was 9-of-27 passing for 83 yards for Missouri, whose only points came on a 35-yard field goal by Andrew Baggett in the second quarter.
Arkansas, meanwhile, had no such offensive problems — even if it failed to score at least 50 points in a game for the fifth time in its last six games.
The Razorbacks had a four-game winning streak snapped a week ago in a thrilling 51-50 loss to Mississippi State, but they took much of the suspense out of Friday while building a 21-3 halftime lead.
Collins put Arkansas up 14-0 early in the second quarter with a seven-yard touchdown run, and he extended the lead to 21-3 with a weaving 25-yard score with 31 seconds left before halftime.
A week after throwing for a school-record seven touchdowns, Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen finished 11 of 17 for 102 yards. The start was the 33rd straight of Allen’s career with the Razorbacks, the longest active streak in the SEC.
Allen and most of his offensive teammates were pulled from the game in the final minute, enjoying a final round of applause from the Arkansas fans who lingered throughout the soggy afternoon in Razorback Stadium.