Today's Paper News Sports Features Business Opinion LEARNS Guide Newsletters Obits Games Archive Notices Core Values

Hogs eat up yards on ground

by Tom Murphy | December 21, 2021 at 2:41 a.m.
*Arkansas running back Trelon Smith (22) carries the ball as Ole Miss linebacker Lakia Henry (0) blocks, Saturday, October 9, 2021 during the fourth quarter of a football game at Vaught Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss. Check out for today's photo gallery. .(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

FAYETTEVILLE -- A strategically placed 3 rushing yards in the Outback Bowl would set up a statistical coup for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

The University of Arkansas has only once in its history produced four 500-yard rushers in the same season.

If freshman Raheim "Rocket" Sanders manages 1 rushing yard against Penn State and five-game starter Dominique Johnson runs for 2 yards the Razorbacks will hit that mark.

The pair would join senior tailback Trelon Smith and sophomore quarterback KJ Jefferson in the 500-yard club should they make it.

The standard setter for spreading the rushing yards was the 1975 Arkansas team. Senior Ike Forte led the way with 983 yards and 10 touchdowns, followed by freshman Jerry Eckwood (792, 5), senior Rolland Fuchs (618, 4) and senior quarterback Scott Bull (533, 8).

This year, the balance has been extraordinary for one of the nation's top rushing attacks under offensive coordinator Kendal Briles.

Arkansas ranks No. 12 in the FBS with 217.3 rushing yards per game, and that's after going up against defenses that now rank No. 3 (Georgia), No. 4 (Alabama), No. 10 (Mississippi State), No. 33 (Auburn) and No. 40 (Texas A&M) against the run.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch »]

The Razorbacks will be up against a Penn State defense that ranks 44th by allowing 137.2 rushing yards per game, one spot better than LSU, which held the Hogs to 141 yards in a 16-13 Arkansas victory in overtime on Nov. 13.

Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman was the offensive line coach for Razorback teams from 2013-15 that produced four 1,000-yard rushers in three seasons, topped by Alex Collins' 1,577 yards in 2015.

He thinks any one of the Razorbacks' top runners this season could have crossed the 1,000-yard plateau given the chance.

"I think so ... if we didn't play so many different running backs, especially when guys got in grooves in games and things of that nature," Pittman said. "Against Missouri, we were losing guys and having injuries.

"We went into it beat up just a little bit. Rocket had a shoulder. I think we had some guys that are capable on our team if they had been the sole feature back to rush for 1,000 yards."

Smith, a seven-game starter, said the variety has been fun to watch. He and Green are seen as the speedier options who have also run between the tackles. Johnson and Sanders fit more in the "big back" mode, though both have quality speed.

Jefferson, who has a team-high 126 carries, has added a spark to the Razorbacks' run-pass option attack with his crafty running.

"The running back room we have here, man, it's a talented room," Smith said. "You've got different backs with different talents. We're all different in our different ways."

Smith entered 2021 as the clear top option after rushing for 710 yards and a team-best 5.3 yards per carry and wresting the starting job away from Rakeem Boyd in 2020.

He leads the team with his 592 rushing yards, but he's had to split carries more drastically than he anticipated.

"This year splitting up the reps, I really didn't have a problem with it," Smith said. "We're all good backs and I want to see everybody win.

"So Dom got an opportunity to go out there and shine, have his breakout year, seeing Rocket go out there and have his breakout year, even AJ, you know I was blessed and happy to see those guys having fun and we were all doing it out there together. That was the most important part about it."

Smith, a transfer from Arizona State who sat out in 2019, passed the 500-yard mark in the Razorbacks' win at LSU. The 5-9, 190-pounder enters the bowl game with five rushing touchdowns on 117 carries.

Jefferson surged past 500 with his 58-yard performance in a 34-17 victory over Missouri in the season finale on Nov. 26. The 6-3, 245-pound sophomore has 554 rushing yards on 126 carries with 5 touchdowns.

Johnson leads the team with seven rushing touchdowns and 5.8 yards per carry, a figure that has been descending since topping out at an SEC-best 7.9 per carry after a 91-yard effort on 6 carries in Game 8 against the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

The height of their versatility came in a 40-21 romp over No. 15 Texas on Sept. 11.

All four tailbacks scored a rushing touchdown in that game as Arkansas chewed up the Longhorns for 333 rushing yards. Smith led the balanced attack with 75 rushing yards, followed by Jefferson's 73, Green's 67, Sanders' 50 and Johnson's 44. Each of those runners averaged 6.3 yards per carry or better, led by Green's 9.6.

The group has combined for three 100-yard games: Smith's 102 yards vs. Rice in the season opener; Sanders' season-high 139 at Ole Miss, and Johnson's 107 against Mississippi State.

Smith has led the team in rushing four games this season, while Johnson and Jefferson have led in three games each, and Green and Sanders in one each.

More News


RB rotation

The Arkansas Razorbacks featured four tailbacks along with quarterback KJ Jefferson in their productive running attack in 2021. The Razorbacks enter the Outback Bowl vs. Penn State ranked No. 12 with 217.33 rushing yards per game.


Trelon Smith;117-592;5;5.1

KJ Jefferson;126-554;5;4.4

Raheim Sanders;101-499;3;4.9

Dominque Johnson;86-498;7;5.8

AJ Green;43-201;1;4.7


Team total;530-2,608;23;4.9


Print Headline: Hogs eat up yards on ground


Sponsor Content