Running Backs Friends, Not Foes

FAYETTEVILLE — Smiling every bit as much as Darren McFadden was, Felix Jones bounced up and down on the 15-yard line in Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Jones waited to embrace his friend and fellow running back, grinning as McFadden flexed toward Arkansas' fans on Oct. 7 after sprinting through the Tigers' defense for a 63-yard touchdown.

He could've been jealous. He could've been miffed. He could've been annoyed.

Instead, Jones just wanted to celebrate.

"Man, I get so excited when he does something like that," Jones said. "That's just the way we are. It's important to us that we support each other."

That kind of relationship, that type of camaraderie, has simplified what easily could've been a problem for the sophomore running backs.

Entering its game at 6:45 p.m. Saturday night at South Carolina, Arkansas sports the second-most productive rushing tandem in the nation. McFadden and Jones, with their combined average of 185.01 yards per game, rank only behind West Virginia's combo of running back Steve Slaton and quarterback Pat White (239.72 ypg).

And much of the success is due to the bond McFadden and Jones share, to the encouragement they give each other.

"They're pretty good friends," said Danny Nutt, Arkansas' running backs coach. "If you notice, if (Darren) makes the touchdown, Felix is the first one there. If Felix makes the touchdown, Darren is the first one there to congratulate him. I mean, they're good buddies."

Imagine if they weren't, if their egos would enter the equation.

McFadden bickers when Jones steals his carries. Jones complains when McFadden hogs his playing time.

Selfishness like that surely would lead to conflict.

"There's no point to it," McFadden said. "Plus, it makes me better having Felix there, and I'm sure Felix thinks the same way."

He certainly does, referring gratefully to the times McFadden "mentions a little something about the defense" to him while the Razorbacks defense is on the field.

Their information sharing has contributed to their gaudy statistics. So has their ability to stay fresh because they rotate in and out for one another.

Formations that include both McFadden and Jones, a scary proposition for defenses, also have benefited them.

McFadden leads the SEC in rushing, averaging 102.4 yards per game with eight touchdowns. Jones ranks first among all Division I-A running backs with a 9.9 yards-per-carry average.

The duo's performance last Saturday in Little Rock prompted Louisiana-Monroe coach Charlie Weatherbie to call them Wind and Lightning — "fast as the wind, quick as lightning," he said.

Jones rushed for a career-high 141 yards and scored one touchdown on nine carries in the 44-10 win in War Memorial Stadium. Not to be outdone, McFadden gained 129 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries and threw his first career touchdown pass.

"They're the best I've ever been around," Nutt said, without hesitation.

Nutt saw flashes of a potential two-headed backfield last season, when McFadden and Jones each emerged first on a part-time basis and then as full-time contributors. McFadden became the first Arkansas freshman to run for more than 1,000 yards in a season, and Jones earned All-America status as a kickoff returner averaging 31.9 yards.

Back then, as 18-year-olds, the two freshmen also formed their friendship, a connection that has carried into this season and likely will persist far beyond.

"We just try to make life the best it is and try to have fun," Jones said. "We go chill, watch movies and go hang out and see girls. You know, stuff that regular friends do."

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