On a day when the two guys he used to back up both got drafted in the first round of the NFL draft, smallish junior tailback Michael Smith went out and made his own big statement in his quest to replace Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.
Smith (5-7, 173) rushed 13 times for 157 yards a touchdown and also caught 3 passes for 63 yards to help lead the Red team over the White 45-14 in a end-of-Spring practice scrimmage before 40,200 fans at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
"This is a man's man's game and it is a big man's game so I know that I have to go out and play and just put my head down and try to make plays," Smith said. "Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't, but I am going to keep trying."
He certainly showed some of the toughness that first-year head coach Bobby Petrino is seeking when you take into account he played with a hernia.
"Coach P has always emphasized toughness," Smith said. "He said if you want to be a leader, you always have to be there. They knew I was banged up, but said come out here and get after it one day and have fun and then we will take care of the rest."
Smith is set for surgery in the next few days.
"I will have it on Thursday," Smith said. "I will be off 4 to 6 weeks and then get to come back. They wanted me to make it through the season, but they also wanted to get to it before it gets too low."
Petrino was pleased with what he saw out of Smith.
"Smith made some great plays. He is great to see that kind of speed. I am got to keep doing a better job of getting him the ball in the open field. That's on me."
Smith's big plays included a 29-yard run that set up his 21-yard touchdown dash to start the scoring and then a screen pass he took 55 yards – something that delighted UA running backs coach Tim Horton.
"He can make people miss," Horton said. "He's got that burst. The one thing that hurts him with that size is his inside running ability and pass protection. Sometimes he just gets runs over – doesn't have enough lead in his pencil. There are the things that hurt, but he is hard to tackle."
Junior tailback Brandon Barnett had just 41 yards on 9 carries, but found the end zone four times.
"This is a performance-based business and Michael and Brandon performed tonight," Horton said. "There are others who didn't."
"We have got to have some playmakers and he was one tonight," Horton said. "I was pleased with Brandon, too, because I thought he made some plays. I thought we got better. We have a long way to go, but it was a good day for those two."
Both Smith and Barnett are small backs and Arkansas had hoped that former linebacker Chip Gregory (4 carries, 9 yards) would excel as a big back.
"That is where somebody like Gregory has got to come through for us," Horton said. "If he doesn't, it is going to go to a freshman probably and there have been freshman play before. We'll just have to see how it goes."
Smith thinks that spring practice went well, but he is also glad it is over.
"We learned a lot and we accomplished a lot both mentally and physically," Smith said. "I got a couple of nicks and bruises. I am glad it is over with so I can get healed up and get stronger and get ready to come back."
He was very happy for his McFadden, who is headed to Oakland, and Dallas-bound Jones.
"I am very excited for them and as soon as I get in this locker room and get dressed that is going to be first two people I call and congratulate them," Smith said. "I was a little disappointed our spring game was going to conflict, but they were taking care of their business and I was taking care of mine."
"Obviously I am so happy for Darren and Felix," Horton said. "In talking with them a couple of days ago, I think they are happy with where they are at. Darren was excited he was going to be going to Oakland and be part of that organization and I know Felix was thrilled to be going to be close to home and close to family. I am happy for those kids that they got to go where they wanted to go and that doesn't happen that often in professional football."
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