|Surprise! Another Hog leading SEC in rushing|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 15 October 2008 13:57|
Michael Smith - all 5-foot-7 of him - has taken over where Darren McFadden left off. With a 35-carry, 176-yard effort at Auburn last weekend, Smith answered any lingering questions about whether he could step in for Arkansas' departed star.
``I've known it for a while,'' quarterback Casey Dick said. ``During spring practice whenever he'd be back there when Darren and Felix (Jones) were here - every time he got the ball he'd do something special with it just like those other guys. Just because he's smaller doesn't mean he's not a good football player.''
Smith toiled in obscurity for his first three years at Arkansas. He redshirted in 2005, then played sparingly the following two seasons. While McFadden was challenging for the Heisman Trophy and Jones was speeding through opposing secondaries, Smith tried to make the most of limited opportunities.
seasons. He also fumbled toward the end of the first half against Kentucky last year. The turnover was returned for a touchdown - a huge momentum shift in a game the Razorbacks eventually lost.
When Bobby Petrino took over as Arkansas' coach last December, nobody knew quite what to expect from Smith. McFadden, the SEC rushing leader the last two seasons, turned pro. Jones joined him, ending any hopes that he might stick around for his senior season to become the featured running back.
Petrino was committed to improving the passing game, and it wasn't clear how much - or how well - the Razorbacks would be able to run the ball.
Smith is eliminating those doubts every time he takes the field. His 120-yard average is tops among conference rushers, over 20 yards ahead of Georgia's Knowshon Moreno, the SEC back who was supposed to be the heir apparent to McFadden. Against Auburn, Smith broke through for a 63-yard touchdown run that put the Razorbacks ahead in the fourth quarter of their 25-22 win.
Smith also caught two passes for 46 yards and had more than 200 all-purpose yards for the game.
Smith has overcome his size, the most obvious difference between him and McFadden. Smith's predecessor gave out about as much punishment as he took.
Despite his small frame, Smith is holding up well. Even McFadden never carried 35 times in a game, which Smith had to do last weekend.
Arkansas lacks experienced depth at Smith's position. When he was suspended for the season opener for improper use of scholarship textbooks, the Razorbacks rushed for only 76 yards. On the season, Smith has 109 carries in five games. No other running back on the team has more than a dozen.
``I'm not worried about my body being able to bounce back from a hard day on the field. We train throughout the year to be able to make it through a very physical season such as this,'' Smith said. ``On Saturday, I wasn't aware it was 35 carries until after the game but I definitely felt it after the game.''
Smith is no Heisman contender - he's not out there throwing touchdown passes like McFadden occasionally did. But Smith is an important part of an evolving Arkansas offense. Dick is second in the SEC in passing, and the Razorbacks are showing offensive balance they hope is a sign of things to come.
This week, Arkansas travels to Kentucky to face one of the league's top defenses. Smith will have a chance to atone for last year's critical fumble.
very big and he gets in behind those big old linemen,'' Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. ``It's hard to see him, so when he pops out, he kind of surprises the defense.''
Smith has surprised a lot of people this year, and suddenly the post-McFadden era doesn't look so bad.
``It's a new year and a new role for me,'' Smith said. ``I'm excited about being able to go out and do my job.''