Hogs have high hopes for run game moving forward
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FAYETTEVILLE — As much as Arkansas struggled to run the ball the first four games of the season, it is still tracking ahead of last year in that area thanks to a big performance at Texas A&M.
With 222 yards on the ground against the Aggies, the Razorbacks are now averaging 126.2 rushing yards per game. That is higher than their 120.4-yard average in SEC games last season.
Although Arkansas still ranks just 86th out of the 115 FBS teams that have played so far this year, it has shown steady improvement in the run game. After failing to crack 80 yards in either of its first two games, it ran for 119 yards at Auburn, 150 yards against Ole Miss and then had the 222-yard effort at Texas A&M.
It’s the result, according to tight end Hudson Henry, of the coaching Sam Pittman - a long-time offensive line coach - brings to the team, as well as tight ends coach Jon Cooper and offensive line coach Brad Davis - both of whom were offensive linemen in college.
“I think this year with Coach Pittman and what he brings and the people that he’s brought in like Coach Cooper, Coach Davis, and even himself, he’s really helped the offense become great blockers,” Henry said. “I think you saw that last week because we were able to open up our run game.”
Now at the halfway point of the season, and with star running back Rakeem Boyd seemingly fully healthy after dealing with an ankle injury, it seems like the Razorbacks might be hitting their stride in the run game.
If Arkansas averaged just 175 rushing yards per game over the next five games, its season average would crack 150 - something it hasn’t done against SEC opponents since 2016.
Henry is aiming higher than that, though. The redshirt freshman wants to hit a mark the Razorbacks haven’t reached in a conference game since the days of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.
“I want to keep opening up the run game,” Henry said. “I want to have a game where we have 400 yards rushing. I think the tight ends have a big part in that. That’s one thing that I also want to improve on, is I want the run game (to be better) for Rakeem and Trelon Smith and for all those guys.”
The notion of Arkansas running for that many yards understandably excites Boyd, as that’d mean he’d likely surpass his career high of 185 yards.
However, the preseason All-SEC selection was quick to point out that it’d take more than just him to accomplish such a feat.
“It’s only going to get better,” Boyd said. “I can’t run by myself, so the O-line has got to do their job and they’ve been doing amazing. In order to run, we need those guys. … We’ve got little things to work on, but those guys have worked so hard to get the backs holes.”
Another thing the Razorbacks will likely need if their run game is going to make a significant jump and sustain their success from the Texas A&M game is steady production from Feleipe Franks.
The graduate transfer from Florida ran for 91 yards against the Aggies and now has 156 yards for the season - both of which are numbers Arkansas hasn’t seen at the quarterback position since Matt Jones in 2004.
“I was proud of Feleipe running that ball,” Boyd said. “When you look at your quarterback at the end of the day, and you see him running the football, you can say that's a tough guy right there. … He gave me a spark once I saw him break out and I said man I've got to get me one."
It remains to be seen what Arkansas will do on the ground against Tennessee, Florida, LSU, Missouri and Alabama, but what’s certain is the players are getting more and more comfortable in offensive coordinator Kendal Briles’ system.
"It's just a few things that we have to get cleaned up and we're kind of getting it all together,” Boyd said. “It's coming together good. I love what Briles does. We've just got to keep working at it and executing our assignments."
Kickoff against Tennessee is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CT Saturday in Fayetteville and the game will be televised on the SEC Network.