Running back Michael Smith has toted the football play after play. He has set career highs in rushing yards and attempts. He has led his team to an upset win at Auburn and helped it gain a 17-point lead against Kentucky.
But when Smith's legs quit churning because of a concussion in the fourth quarter of Arkansas' 21-20 loss at Kentucky, the offense also grinded to a halt. And tight end D.J. Williams said the Razorbacks learned a lesson.
"We just can't sit back and let Mike try to take care of the whole show," Williams said. "He has that talent and ability to do it himself, but the team has to back him up."
Arkansas knows it has relied on Smith too much as it prepares for the possibility of playing without him against Ole Miss. The 5-foot-7, 173-pound back, who missed Tuesday's practice and remains questionable, has been a consistent workhorse for the up-and-down group.
The proof is in the numbers: The Razorbacks ran 157 plays the past two games and Smith touched the ball 75 times (47.7 percent). They've gained 746 yards and Smith has accounted for 447 (59.9 percent) of them.
"There's no question we have to do a better job," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. "We have to get someone besides Michael Smith involved and comfortable making plays and comfortable calling plays for them."
Make no mistake, the Razorbacks still want Smith to play an important role. The junior, who leads the SEC in rushing yards a game (131.8), has been impressive weapon.
But Arkansas' success is predicated on having multiple threats, and center Jonathan Luigs said Smith needs help because he has grabbed the attention of opponents.
"I think the more and more carries he gets, the more and more defenses are going to be able to pinpoint him and concentrate on him," Luigs said. "Once that happens, it'll be kind of lock down. So we need to be able to open up the passing game, hit some receivers, get some guys out of the box and that will just create bigger plays."
Petrino said Monday he was optimistic Smith would play, but his status remains unknown. Freshmen De'Anthony Curtis and Dennis Johnson shared most of the work in Tuesday's practice and are preparing for larger role.
The pair split rushing duties when Smith was suspended for the opener. But they haven't had much success, combining for 108 yards on 32 carries this season.
"We have to run harder," Petrino said of the freshmen. "De'Anthony and D.J., we have to give D.J. more opportunities. We have to take care of the football.
"We were in a situation there in the fourth quarter it looked like we were going to be able to just run the ball out, run the clock out and we kind of gave it away."
The passing attack is an even bigger concern after struggling through its worst game at Kentucky.
Quarterback Casey Dick completed 11 of 29 passes for 94 yards. Smith led the team in catches (3). Arkansas' receivers and tight ends combined to grab seven passes.
"We do have to do a much better job of throwing the ball," Petrino said. "I wasn't happy with our passing game the other night. I wasn't happy with our accuracy. I wasn't happy with the precision that there needs to be against tight coverage to execute our passing game."
Petrino said Smith's injury status will force the Razorbacks to sharpen up and find production elsewhere even though they've been "trying to force it" for weeks.
But Curtis said Arkansas' offensive troubles after Smith's injury reinforced the fact that help is needed Saturday.
"We've got to make sure we're ready to step in and carry the load," Curtis said. "It's going to mean a lot."
Razorbacks Looking for More Options
Hawgs Daily Top Stories
Longhorns Preview Oklahoma StateTexas offensive players discuss the Longhorns' upcoming game at Oklahoma State to kickoff Big 12 Conference play.
Horns DigestYesterday at 6:21 PM
Louisiana CB 'Real Close' to a DecisionIt may not be too long before one of the top cornerbacks in Louisiana makes his decision. Four schools are high on his list and you can get the latest here...
Scout FootballYesterday at 6:15 AM
JC defensive back talks ISU official visitOver the weekend, Iowa State played host to one of their top 2017 targets in the current recruiting cycle in Paramount, CA three-star JUCO CB Keisean Nixon. This visit for the…
AllCyclonesSunday at 6:34 PM
TCU vs Iowa State primerAfter falling in double-overtime to Arkansas, TCU looks to get back to their winning ways against Iowa State.
Horned Frog Insider09/15/2016