McFadden Returns To Place Where It All Began

FAYETTEVILLE — By now, the play is just another one of Darren McFadden's many highlights at Arkansas. But this one should have some sentimental value.

There was the way he burst to the outside. The way he outran Alabama's defense down the sideline. And of course, the way he delivered a stiff-arm to Crimson Tide safety Roman Harper.

McFadden's 70-yard touchdown run in Arkansas' last trip to Tuscaloosa in 2005 offered a glimpse of what the future Heisman Trophy runner-up was capable of doing with the football in his hands.

The Razorbacks lost 24-13 on that day, but Sept. 24, 2005, is still considered by many as McFaddens' coming-out party.

"I guess you could say that," McFadden said. "I think it was my first game starting, and I had a big touchdown run against them."

The junior will return to Alabama for the final time Saturday, and Arkansas' coaches are hoping that he can break enough big runs to lead the No. 16 Razorbacks (1-0) to a critical Southeastern Conference win on national TV.

But a lot has changed since McFadden stepped into Bryant-Denny Stadium as a freshman making his first career start.

He's a Heisman Trophy favorite who won last year's Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back. He's put up back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. And his face has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, ESPN The Magazine and practically every other college football magazine.

Alabama coach Nick Saban admitted it will be nearly impossible to accurately prepare for McFadden this week in practice.

"If we could simulate him in practice, we'd play the guy," Saban said. "I wish we had one."

McFadden's legacy can be traced back nearly two years ago to the loss at Alabama. Coincidentally, the Crimson Tide was one of the teams that recruited McFadden heavily out of high school.

Even though he had garnered plenty of attention, McFadden didn't get many carries at the start of his freshman season in 2005.

He had only nine rushes for 70 yards in the season opener against Missouri State, though he scored his first career touchdown. The following week, he had just one carry for six yards in a demoralizing home loss to Vanderbilt.

But McFadden proved with his 88 yards rushing against the University of Southern California on Sept. 17, 2005, that he could be a big-time running back for the Razorbacks.

So less than a month after his 18th birthday, McFadden earned his first start against Alabama. He admitted he was nervous before the game.

"The league I played in in high school was a smaller division to the SEC, so there were a lot of people there and you tend to get nervous," McFadden said.

Though Arkansas lost, McFadden made an impression by rushing for 95 yards on eight carries. His most memorable run, of course, was the 70-yard touchdown that is still discussed by Arkansas fans on local sports talk radio shows.

"When I went out there and (saw) all the green grass out there, (I) just hit it full steam," McFadden said, recalling the play.

He took the handoff, ran around the left side and outran Alabama's defenders down the sideline. Harper tried tackling the running back at the waist, but McFadden stuck out his arm.

It was the same stiff-arm that his father, Graylon, had taught him as a kid. Harper ended up on his back, and McFadden headed to the end zone.

The play left an impression on Arkansas coach Houston Nutt.

"We've talked about it before. That was really when you knew," Nutt said. "He had just turned 18 years of age, and he took it almost 80 yards against a great defense and stiff-armed an All-American and got into that end zone for us.

"So we knew that he was special."

A Preview of What Was To Come

Arkansas running back Darren McFadden's game-by-game breakdown as a freshman in 2005:

Opponent Rush Yds TD Long

Missouri State 9 70 1 37

Vanderbilt 1 6 0 6

USC 13 88 0 14

Alabama 8 95 1 70

ULM 11 125 2 39

Auburn 13 108 2 35

Georgia 31 190 2 70

South Carolina 32 187 0 36

Ole Miss 13 22 0 9

Miss. State 21 165 2 64

LSU 24 57 1 13

Total 176 1,113 11 70

Hawgs Daily Top Stories