Flash And Dash

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas tailbacks Felix Jones and Darren McFadden are getting used to the comparison.

After all, it was first made during preseason practices in August, continued after their dazzling debut against Missouri State and swelled when both eclipsed the 100-yard mark and combined for 4 touchdowns last Saturday. Then there's the fact they play for a Southeastern Conference school, have provided a potent 1-2 punch and even welcome the chance to split playing time throughout their careers.

So surely, Jones and McFadden are the reincarnation of former Auburn running backs Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown.

It's a flattering compliment, but the backs said they're only concerned about one part of the comparison right now.

"The way (Brown and Williams) worked together and the way they did things last year, it was a great sight to see," Jones said about the Auburn tailbacks, who led the Tigers to the 2004 Southeastern Conference championship and were each selected in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft. "We're going to have to rely on each other if we want to win championships and things like that here."

Arkansas is hoping McFadden and Jones can start by simply helping the Hogs earn their first SEC victory when the Razorbacks meet No. 21 Auburn in Reynolds Razorbacks Stadium on Saturday night. The duo has emerged from a crowded backfield, which also consists of senior De'Arrius Howard and sophomore Peyton Hillis, to earn the bulk of the rushing load the past few weeks.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said they're scheduled to get just as much work against Auburn's stingy defense Saturday. And he's hoping Jones and McFadden will turn in their best Brown and Williams impersonation during the pivotal game.

"You see which way we're going," Nutt said. "It's obvious. I still think we need all of our backs. I don't want anybody to get hurt.

"These guys right now have earned the right and they're making plays. They're playing with and without the ball and learning protections so they're getting better. They're going to get more and more."

McFadden started the past two games, leads the Razorbacks with 384 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns and is averaging 9.1 yards a carry. The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder's game-high 125 yards against Louisiana-Monroe was his first 100-yard performance. He also has reached the end zone three times the past two games.

Jones, a 6-foot, 195-pounder, turned in his best performance in the opener, rushing for 137 yards and a touchdown. He picked up another 100-yard performance against the Indians (102) and is second with 352 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns.

They became the first Arkansas freshmen to rush for more than 100 yards in the same game.

"They're freshmen backs, but they run like they've been here for awhile," said Arkansas quarterback Robert Johnson said. "They get the ball and they only think about scoring. That's what makes them so dangerous.

"It seems like you can hand them the ball any time and they can go the distance."

Jones proved that in the opener, taking his second career carry 80 yards for a touchdown. The quick-footed back split through a hole, raced past linebackers and outran the secondary en route to the end zone.

McFadden got in on the big-play act against Alabama, helping the Hogs pull closer to the Crimson Tide with a 70-yard run that showed off his speed (a burst around left tackle) and strength (stiff-arming senior safety Roman Harper to the ground).

"Coming into the season, I was telling myself that if go out there and work hard, I know I can get into the rotation," McFadden said. "I figured I was going to work my way into playing time, but I didn't know I was going to contribute as much as I have.

"I didn't think I was going to play as much as I have."

But the Razorbacks have turned to both, counting on them to handle a variety of roles, much like Williams and Brown during their careers. In fact, the talented tandem combined to average 234.4 all-purpose yards as seniors last season.

Jones (138.8) and McFadden (110.4) are averaging 249.2 after five games.

Jones ranks second in the SEC in all-purpose yards, while McFadden is sixth. They're also ninth and sixth, respectively, in the SEC in rushing. And Jones leads the SEC (32.1 yards) in kickoff returns, while McFadden is fifth (27.3).

As if that's not enough, they've also proven they can handle the one task that often keeps talented freshmen on the bench their first season: Blocking.

McFadden dealt a punishing blow to a blitzing Louisiana-Monroe linebacker last Saturday, knocking him out of the game with a shoulder injury. Jones earned praise from Nutt on another play, blocking a linebacker, watching Johnson scramble and sprinting to make another block to help his quarterback downfield.

"I played defense in high school and I love to make contact," Jones said. "You don't really get as much contact (at running back). You get a lot when you run the ball, but you don't get to throw a block or get to hit anybody. You always take the hits. That's what I used to like to do in high school. I used to like to give the hit.

"It's fun when you can get somebody off their feet."

Nutt said the unselfishness to share the spotlight and the willingness to do whatever is asked have been big reasons for their early success.

"That's why they've been successful, because of teamwork," Nutt said. "I've been really proud of them because of their team concept. Their unselfishness.

"Usually success is going to come a little quicker with guys with that attitude."

The true freshmen are on pace to turn in record-setting seasons. Former Razorback Cedric Cobbs set the Arkansas freshman rushing record in 1999 (668 yards). Jones and McFadden are more than halfway there after five games.

But McFadden said they're not paying attention to individual goals.

"We haven't even looked at too many records," McFadden said. "We just want to go out there and play game by game. If you go out there looking to set records and things, if you're focusing on setting records, then you'll get sidetracked.

"You're not focused on playing and you'll start messing up and things like that."

That would be a rare occurrence for the freshmen, who are roommates on the road, live in the same building on campus and spend time together off the field.

McFadden said it helps having someone to "relate to" during his first season in the spotlight. Jones said the two constantly encourage each other and their success has triggered a healthy competition reminiscent of Williams and Brown at Auburn.

"It's a nice thing to see your partner in crime go out there and run over 100 yards," Jones said. "You get excited and you feed off of his energy. That's what I did (last Saturday). When you heard the crowd go wild when he made the long run, you say, 'Man, I want to do something like that.' That's what I feed off of.

"Maybe we keep this going and get a lot more games like that."

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