Suspended RB Ready to Run

FAYETTEVILLE--Running back Michael Smith, who was buried behind Darren McFadden and Felix Jones on the depth chart the past three seasons, was stuck in a frustratingly familiar place last Saturday.

The junior stood on Arkansas' sideline. He watched two other running backs. And this time, to make matters worse, it was his fault.

Smith, who was supposed to make his first start Saturday, wasn't eligible for Arkansas' close call against Western Illinois after being suspended for the "improper use of scholarship textbooks."

Smith declined to delve into the details behind the suspension Tuesday, but said missing the nail-biting win was "extremely hard."

"People are going to think what they're going to think and I'm not going to be able to change their minds," Smith said about the suspension. "You know how stories just branch off. I'd like to apologize for not being ready for the opener. Hopefully, I can make up for it."

The Razorbacks are counting on him as they prepare for Saturday's game against Louisiana-Monroe. Without Smith, Arkansas' rushing attack floundered against the Leathernecks.

Arkansas managed 76 yards and handed the ball to its freshmen tailbacks — De'Anthony Curtis and Dennis Johnson — only 12 times. Its two rushing touchdowns were courtesy of quarterback Casey Dick.

The rushing total was Arkansas' lowest since a 67-yard effort against Auburn last October. It also was the lowest total in an opener since 2001, when the Razorbacks were limited to 25 yards in a 14-10 win against UNLV.

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said the production was disappointing, but there were reasons. For one, ULM's defense packed players in the box and dared the Razorbacks to take to the air in their new offense.

In addition, Arkansas trailed most of the game and had to play catch up by throwing the ball up-and-down the field in the second half.

"When you go back and watch the video, we never got anything established running the ball," Petrino said. "We're behind and had to throw it a little bit more. We had to try to pick up the tempo and go faster. It wasn't a case of saying, ‘Hey, we need to establish these runs, this run.' It was always more, ‘Let's throw the ball and try to pop a draw type of a deal.' So we just need to get out and be able to execute our offense and not play from behind the whole time."

Petrino is confident Smith's return will provide a big boost.

"Our running game will improve," Petrino said. "There's no question in my mind we'll come out (Saturday) and run the ball better."

The 5-foot-7, 173-pound Smith was Arkansas' most explosive running back in the preseason. He rushed for 303 yards and three touchdowns last season and his experience will also come in handy during pass protection. The freshmen struggled in that area against Western Illinois.

The Razorbacks still plan to give Johnson and Curtis carries against ULM, but Petrino has already named Smith as Saturday's starter.

"He's someone that's been through a lot, played in the heat of battle some games," Dick said. "It will be nice to get all that experience back there and everybody will be on the same page."

Smith's debut will come a week later than anticipated because of the suspension. The Razorbacks were aware of the situation since the spring, but the possibility of Smith's absence was kept under wraps.

"We had known," Smith said. "(Petrino) said it was important to go through the fall knowing I'm going to be the starter in preparation for that. That's what we did. It came to that. Now it's over."

Smith said his teammates understood his mistake and welcome his return. He is cleared for Saturday's game and raring to go, but isn't sure how much he'll get the ball against Warhawks.

Petrino expressed some concern about Smith's ability to hold up to the physical contact after he suffered some nicks in spring scrimmages. He said the Razorbacks will just keep an eye on Smith early in the game and make a determination from there.

Smith said his legs are fresh. He also said he's not planning to stand on the sideline long now that his one-game suspension is over.

"You come to college to start," Smith said. "You don't come to college to sit on the bench. I'm going to be as excited as anybody else. ... I'm going to be ready to go."

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