Arkansas RBs Form A Three-Headed Monster Rarely Seen But Worth Remembering

The Razorbacks' backfield will break up after the Cotton Bowl

Dec. 30, 2007

DALLAS (AP) - Darren McFadden is the star, the Heisman Trophy runner-up whose speed and power make him a threat to score whenever he touches the ball.

Felix Jones is the sidekick, the other tailback who has quietly rushed for 1,000 yards two straight seasons.

Peyton Hillis is the setup man, the overlooked fullback who excels as a lead blocker and has also been Arkansas' top receiver.

"Probably nothing like it in the country. They can hit you from any angle," Missouri defensive lineman Lorenzo Williams said. "You know what they're going to do, but stopping it is the problem. It's pretty much the same with a lot of teams. The only thing is, they've got like three NFL running backs."

Williams and the seventh-ranked Tigers will face that outstanding trio when Missouri plays No. 25 Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl on Tuesday. After that, the Razorbacks' backfield will break up. Hillis is a senior and juniors McFadden and Jones can turn pro.

"I don't know that the state of Arkansas will ever get to go to Hog games and see what they've seen the last couple years with those three guys," Razorbacks offensive coordinator David Lee said. "Felix Jones, Peyton Hillis, Darren McFadden - all in there, doing it at one time. It's hard to have three backs on one team that are all going to be drafted - especially as high as these three guys have a chance to go."

The Razorbacks have practiced at SMU in the days leading up to the Cotton Bowl. That's fitting because SMU was once home to one of college football's most famous running tandems - the "Pony Express" backfield of Eric Dickerson and Craig James. McFadden and Jones have been comparable, rushing for 7,396 yards since arriving at Arkansas together in 2005.

McFadden finished second in the Heisman voting in 2006 and 2007. This season he has rushed for a school-record 1,725 yards. Jones is at 1,117.

They are 200 yards behind the major college record for rushing by two teammates. Southern California's Reggie Bush and LenDale White ran for 3,042 yards in the 2005 season.



McFadden and Jones already set one record this year in a November win over South Carolina, combining for 487 yards rushing. McFadden had 321, tying a Southeastern Conference record.

That game exemplified how difficult it is to stop the duo. The Gamecocks slowed McFadden early, but Jones took advantage of the extra space on touchdown runs of 40 and 72 yards in the first quarter. In the second half, McFadden ran wild.

"It's just fun to play with the best," Jones said. "Darren can go in and pound them, pound them, pound them, and here I come. I can come in, put a move on them or something, something they're not ready for."

Football fans might need a few years to appreciate fully what they've seen at Arkansas. If Hillis goes on to a significant NFL career as some expect, the Razorbacks' backfield will seem that much more amazing.

Hillis was a high school star in Arkansas, but he's had to adjust to fewer carries in college because of McFadden and Jones. Hillis has evolved into a dangerous receiver, catching 44 passes this season and helping the Hogs withstand an injury to wide receiver Marcus Monk.

"I do believe that we have the most talented backfield in the country. We show it all the time," Hillis said. "Being on a team that has so much talent, a lot of people get overshadowed."

Hillis was overlooked until the regular-season finale against then-No. 1 LSU. He scored four touchdowns in Arkansas' 50-48, triple-overtime win.

As spread offenses have become more popular, Arkansas has gone in the opposite direction in recent years. The Razorbacks rely on a bruising offensive line, and their running backs are so effective the team sometimes plays without a quarterback.

McFadden occasionally takes direct snaps from the shotgun in the Razorbacks' "WildHog" formation. He can run, hand off to Jones or even pass - he's thrown seven touchdown passes over the last two seasons.

"The best formation in football," McFadden said. "When we get in the WildHog, we just feel like something big's going to happen every time."

An Arkansas television station recently linked McFadden and an agent to the purchase of a vehicle. After strong denials by the agent and McFadden's parents, the station apologized Friday, saying its report was flawed. The school said over the weekend it was still looking into the matter, but coaches expressed confidence McFadden would play against Missouri as expected.

Assuming he does, fans should savor it. A trio like this doesn't come around often.