FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — In each of Bret Bielema’s 10 previous seasons as a head coach, he’s had at least one player rush for 1,000 yards or more.
Arkansas sophomore Rawleigh Williams III is now 45 yards away from continuing that impressive streak — and with four games left to play.
Williams rushed for 148 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Razorbacks’ 31-10 victory over Florida, continuing his impressive sophomore season and comeback from last year’s frightening neck injury.
But in addition to Williams, there are other encouraging things about the run game to take away from Arkansas’ win Saturday. The offensive line was vastly improved against the Gators. Sophomore Johnny Gibson made his first career start and played well.
Plus, true freshman Devwah Whaley is beginning to work his way into the rotation on a more regular basis. He rushed for 65 and 66 yards in Arkansas’ wins over Ole Miss and Florida, respectively.
“That’s our identity,” Williams said of the run game. “If we can’t run the ball, our team doesn’t click the way it should. That was definitely what we focused on the last two weeks is being able to run the ball. Everything else will open up because of that and it did today.”
Indeed, for all the talk about Arkansas’ struggle in run defense two weeks ago at Auburn, the Hogs’ lack of a running game severely limited the team’s ability to get anything going against the Tigers offensively.
The emergence of Whaley — who was one of the nation’s top running back recruits in 2016 — is a welcome development considering Bielema’s preference to have multiple backs capable of carrying the load.
The career-ending injury of senior Kody Walker last month hurt, but that just makes Whaley’s emergence all the more timely and important.
For the season, Williams has rushed for 955 yards and 7 touchdowns, while Whaley is at 383 yards and 1 score.
“They were running with their shoulder pads over their toes,” quarterback Austin Allen said of the Arkansas running backs. “Nothing would be there and they would still turn it to 2 or 3 yards, and then you would see those 20- and 30-yard runs they would get.
“They played their tails off.”