The comparisons are unavoidable now. Eight games in and already a member of the 1,000-yard club, Rocket Sanders is treading on hallowed ground by invoking memories of Darren McFadden on the cusp of All Hallow’s Eve.
“Here’s Sanders, left side, big hole,” SEC Network play-by-play man Dave Neal said during his call of Sanders’ 76-yard run against Auburn. “Looking like Darren McFadden down the near sideline.”
It helps that the sophomore from Florida wears the same No. 5 as the two-time Doak Walker Award winner, but the stats back it up, too. After a 171-yard performance in Arkansas’ 41-27 win at Auburn on Saturday, Sanders is actually tracking ahead of McFadden.
By eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark, he tied Madre Hill for the fastest player in UA history to hit that number — and he’s carried the ball 65 fewer times than Hill did at this point of the 1995 season. It took McFadden nine games to reach the milestone in his two Heisman Trophy runner-up campaigns.
McFadden’s ninth game in 2007, however, was his SEC record-tying 321-yard performance against South Carolina, so Sanders would need to run for 273 next week against Liberty to keep pace. Hill’s production dropped off down the stretch before he tore his ACL in the SEC Championship Game.
Rocket Sanders’ Production vs Arkansas’ Top-5 Single-Season Rushers, Thru 8 Games
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Making this eight-game stretch by Sanders even more impressive, aside from the fact that he’s still relatively new to the position, is just how efficient and explosive he’s been.
Despite being the feature back with nearly triple the number of carries as his backup, Sanders is averaging a whopping 6.7 yards per carry. The only 1,000-yard rusher in school history with a better per-carry average than that is Felix Jones, who posted 7.6- and 8.7-yard averages in 2006 and 2007 as the Robin to McFadden’s Batman.
“I’m proud of him,” quarterback KJ Jefferson said. “For him to reach 1,000 yards so fast, and this is just his second year playing running back, it just shows his poise and the offseason workouts he’s been doing. Everything he’s taking advantage of.”
Jefferson’s Halloween Costume
Speaking of superheroes, head coach Sam Pittman might have identified the perfect Halloween costume for his star quarterback when he called him “Superman.”
KJ Jefferson completed 16 of 24 passes (66.7%) for 234 yards and one touchdown, plus added 45 yards and two more scores on 10 carries against Auburn. However, when it comes to his actual play on the field, those numbers don’t do his performance justice.
After scoring on a 1-yard keeper, Jefferson’s second touchdown was far more impressive. Facing a third-and-6, he immediately felt pressure as he dropped back to pass, so he tucked it and ran. One stiff arm of Zion Puckett and 13 yards later, he was in the end zone and hit the Superman celebration popularized by Cam Newton.
“Actually I really ran the wrong play,” Jefferson said with a smile during his postgame interview with the SEC Network. “It’s really a shallow route to (Jadon) Haselwood actually. I didn’t see Haselwood at all, so I just took off running and I made the most of it. I had to make one guy miss, and that was the guy I made miss.”
Dubinion Punches It In Twice
He finished with only 11 yards on five carries, but Rashod Dubinion scored Arkansas’ other two rushing touchdowns against Auburn.
All five of his touches came in the second half and all but one of them came in the red zone, illustrating the Razorbacks’ comfort level with the true freshman.
“He’s a really good player, mature kid, does everything that we ask him to, works hard and he can make you miss, and he’s tough,” Pittman said. “I like him. I think he has a great future here, but we trust him.”
Both scores were 2-yard runs, but the first was particularly noteworthy because it happened out of a new look from Arkansas’ offense.
KJ Jefferson lined up like he was going to take a shotgun snap, but he was actually lined up behind the right guard. The snap went straight to Dubinion, who scored standing up.
“They were faking an option play off of it and snapping it to R-Dub and it worked like a charm,” Pittman said. “We needed it. It was third down, third-and-goal. That was a bye week thought of KB’s and those guys.”
Up-and-Down Day for Bauer
In his third game taking over as Arkansas’ starting punter, fifth-year senior Reid Bauer averaged 43 yards on his three punts against Auburn — but that number is quite misleading.
Fresh off a BYU game in which he boomed a 62-yarder in his only try, Bauer shanked his first and third punts Saturday afternoon for 27 and 24 yards. Sandwiched between those, though, he had a 78-yarder.
It traveled about 55 yards in the air before Auburn’s punt returner for some reason let it fall to the ground instead of fair catching it. It took a very friendly bounce and was downed at the 7.
The punt is the longest by an Arkansas player since Sam Irwin-Hill had a 79-yarder against South Carolina in 2013 and is tied for the 10th-longest in UA history.
Even with his two bad punts, Bauer still has a 47.1-yard average this season.
Arkansas Trolls Auburn
With Halloween just a few days away, Arkansas used its victory as an opportunity to troll Auburn on Twitter with this incredible photoshop:
Dominique Johnson Update
Circling back to the running back talk, Dominique Johnson was a surprise scratch from Saturday’s game. He did not make the trip and instead, freshman James Jointer Jr. made his collegiate debut as the Razorbacks’ fourth running back in garbage time.
Asked about Johnson’s absence after the game, Pittman didn’t reveal much, but hinted at an injury.
“I’d rather talk about that maybe Monday, if you would,” Pittman said. “We found out — he’s injured and we just found out on Thursday after practice.”
Johnson missed the first three games of the season as he worked his way back from a torn ACL suffered in the Outback Bowl and saw limited playing time in the last four games. He has 43 yards on eight carries and was seemingly behind Sanders, AJ Green and Dubinion in the pecking order.
Because he’s appeared in only four games, Johnson is eligible for a redshirt if the injury keeps him out the rest of the year.
Arkansas Football Injury Report
Here’s the latest on several Arkansas football players dealing with injuries…
- CB Malik Chavis (concussion): Did not travel… Returned to practice in a green non-contact jersey Tuesday, but still recovering
- RB Dominique Johnson (undisclosed): Did not travel
- QB KJ Jefferson (shoulder): Started and played the entire game until Arkansas went to its backups… Did not throw during the bye week because of lingering shoulder injury
- DB Myles Slusher (calf): Started and notched a sack as one of his five tackles… Missed previous two games with a calf injury… Also missed two games earlier in the year with what was believed to be a concussion
- OL Ty’Kieast Crawford (undisclosed): Traveled and played after missing the BYU game
- DB Jayden Johnson (undisclosed): Traveled and played after missing the BYU game
- DB Khari Johnson (undisclosed): Traveled and played after missing the BYU game
- DB Latavious Brini (ankle): Started and made team-high seven tackles with two TFLs… Been playing through a lingering ankle injury, but Pittman said he got healthy over the bye week
- LB Bumper Pool (hip): Continued to play through a nagging hip injury… Finished with six tackles
- WR Jadon Haselwood (shoulder): Also continued to play through a nagging shoulder injury… Caught six passes for 62 yards and a touchdown
- DT Taurean Carter (knee): Been out since getting hurt in the Spring Showcase… Pittman is hopeful he might be able to return for the final two games of the regular season, or for the bowl game at the latest
- CB LaDarrius Bishop (knee): Out for the year
- S Jalen Catalon (shoulder): Out for the year
More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS…