December 22, 2014

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Hog wild: Is Arkansas’ Mcfadden back in Heisman hunt after 321-yard performance

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — With or without the Heisman Trophy, Darren McFadden has secured his legacy as one of the Southeastern Conference’s greatest runners.
McFadden rushed for 321 yards Saturday night, tying an SEC record in Arkansas’ 48-36 victory over South Carolina. After falling from the spotlight during an unspectacular October, McFadden gave Heisman voters something to think about in one of the top performances of the college football season.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” McFadden said with a smile. “That’s the only thing I can say to them.”
McFadden was the Heisman runner-up last year, but his candidacy was hurt when Arkansas lost its first three conference games this season. He also was bothered by sore ribs and lacked his usual explosiveness. McFadden averaged only 4.0 yards per carry last month.
Against South Carolina, he appeared intent on making up for all that in one night. Though at first he was credited with 2 more yards than he actually gained. On Sunday, Arkansas checked the tape and adjusted McFadden’s total down from 323 to 321. That left him tied with Vanderbilt’s Frank Mordica, who ran for 321 yards in a 1978 game
How amazing was McFadden’s performance? In one game, he moved from No. 10 to No. 5 on the SEC career rushing list, passing Carnell Williams, Sonny Collins, Emmitt Smith, Charles Alexander and Dalton Hilliard. McFadden now has 4,074 yards rushing for his career.
He also became the second SEC player to rush for 1,000 yards as a freshman, sophomore and junior — Herschel Walker was the other. Walker is the conference’s career leader with 5,259 yards, a mark that seems out of reach for McFadden if he turns pro after this season. He’s still within striking distance of Errict Rhett (4,163), Bo Jackson (4,303) and Kevin Faulk (4,557).
“He’s rare. That’s why you have to mention him when talking about the Heisman Trophy,” Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. “You have to mention his name. It’s unfair if you’re not going to do that. He’s too good of a football player.”
McFadden and fellow running back Felix Jones dressed up as Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble for Halloween last week, the result of an athletic department poll in which fans helped pick their costumes. Barney actually had the better start Saturday. With the defense focused on McFadden, Jones ran for touchdowns of 40 and 72 yards in the first quarter.
McFadden and Jones each surpassed 1,000 yards on the season against South Carolina, becoming the first SEC teammates to do that in back-to-back seasons.
After Jones’ big first half, McFadden found more running room in the second. Arkansas finished with 542 yards rushing.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier didn’t hide his disgust, comparing the Gamecocks to a Division III team and playfully wondering if Nutt was trying to run up the score by sticking with the running game. Arkansas threw the ball only once in the second half — and that was when McFadden tossed a 23-yard touchdown pass to Robert Johnson.
“Arkansas was just physically stronger than we were and there was nothing we could do about it,” Spurrier said. “There’s not much of a chance if you can’t stop the run.”
McFadden still lines up at quarterback quite a bit, the way he did last year. Arkansas used that formation with great success against the Gamecocks, including on a reverse pass in the second quarter.
McFadden lined up at quarterback, with quarterback Casey Dick at wide receiver. Jones took a handoff and pitched to Dick, who threw deep to Lucas Miller for a 35-yard touchdown to make it 28-10.
Everything Arkansas tried on offense seemed to work, even when the Razorbacks didn’t execute perfectly. McFadden’s touchdown pass came after he dropped a pitchout. He quickly picked up the ball and spotted Johnson.
“It gave him more time to get open,” McFadden said with a laugh.
Johnson actually wasn’t open, but he outjumped a defender in the end zone to give the Razorbacks a 35-20 lead.
South Carolina remained within striking distance, closing to 42-36 with 8:15 remaining. McFadden answered with an 80-yard touchdown run. Once he swept around the right side, he was gone.
“He didn’t have to do much to score on that play,” Spurrier said. “He didn’t have to juke anybody. He didn’t have to sidestep anybody. I don’t think anyone even touched him.”
That’s because once McFadden breaks free, he’s difficult to catch.
“To run for 321 yards, take that many carries and do that many things … it’s a phenomenal effort,” Nutt said. “(Darren) is one of the greatest players to ever walk through here.”