Backups Ready to Run

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas running back Michael Smith feels better than expected after handling the football 51 times the past two games.

Coach Bobby Petrino said Smith has been impressive each time he's touched it, too, piling up 338 all-purpose yards.

But no matter how much success the junior has had in his starting role the past two games, both Smith and Petrino agree on something else as the Razorbacks (2-1) prepare for No. 7 Texas (3-0). He needs help.

"I certainly hope so," Smith admitted Monday.

Make no mistake: Smith isn't lobbying for a smaller role in Petrino's offense. The 5-foot-7, 173-pound back will remain Arkansas' most important runner, but the Razorbacks are hoping to keep Smith fresh by getting De'Anthony Curtis and Dennis Johnson more involved.

The freshmen, who handled all the carries when Smith was suspended for the opener, haven't contributed much lately. Smith had a combined 248 rushing yards on 41 carries against Louisiana-Monroe and Alabama. Arkansas' other backs — Curtis, Johnson and Brandon Barnett — have combined for eight carries and 13 yards during the same span.

Petrino said that must change against the Longhorns.

"We have to do it," he said Monday. "We've got to get (Curtis and Johnson) involved."

Arkansas' fear is that Smith's workload — even though he has been productive — could come at a price.

Smith said he is holding up physically, but he needed intravenous fluids at halftime against Louisiana-Monroe two weeks ago. His production has slipped noticeably in the second half, too, although Arkansas' double-digit deficits have played a role in his limited carries.

Smith has logged 28 carries and 202 yards (7.2 yards a carry) in the first half. He has run for 46 yards on 13 carries (3.5 yards a carry) in the second half.

"Michael has done a fantastic job for us," quarterback Casey Dick said. "Any time one of those guys get in there ... they've just got to step up and make plays."

That's the tricky part. Putting the backs on the field isn't as easy as it sounds. If Arkansas turns to Curtis or Johnson, it doesn't want any offensive rhythm to wane.

Petrino was asked what has held them back to this point and his answer was a familiar one for freshmen: They're still learning blocking assignments on passing plays.

"It's a comfort zone on pass protection," Petrino said. "Those are the things that worry you."

But Petrino said Arkansas has expanded Curtis' package in the game plan each week and it will continue to grow for both running backs this week. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said new personnel groups were even created Tuesday to make sure both backs get on the field.

Johnson was the most impressive back during Tuesday's practice, but Curtis believes he's eager to run, too, after spending three weeks adjusting to college football.

Both backs believe they are ready to help Smith.

"I'm learning as I'm on the sideline because of all the good stuff Mike has been doing," Curtis said. "So I'm taking advantage of that and learning and just waiting on my chance. ... Whatever they want me to do, I'll do."

Help Wanted

Running back Michael Smith has carried the rushing load for the Razorbacks the past two games. But has it been too much? Here is a breakdown of how Arkansas' running backs have fared the past two games.

Running Back Att. Yards Avg.

Michael Smith 41 248 6.0

De'Anthony Curtis 5 12 2.4

Dennis Johnson 1 1 1.0

Brandon Barnett 2 0 0.0

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