Barnett Makes Most of Opportunity

FAYETTEVILLE — When Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino met with Brandon Barnett a few weeks ago, he could tell the little-used running back was "hungry" for playing time.

So when Arkansas needed someone to fill in for injured starter Michael Smith at South Carolina last Saturday, Petrino and the Razorbacks turned to the junior from Texarkana. And Barnett didn't disappoint.

Arkansas' ground game got a much-needed lift from Barnett in its 34-21 loss. He led the Razorbacks with 45 yards and a touchdown and also helped the Hogs find success in an area that had been an Achilles heel all season: Short-yardage situations.

It was small consolation on a disappointing day. But the opportunity to contribute was something Barnett said he'd been waiting for throughout an injury-plagued season.

"I had to lay back and just wait until my number was called," Barnett said. "That's what I've been doing, just waiting around until I got the opportunity. I got the opportunity (Saturday)."

Petrino said he had bigger plans for Barnett after he turned in a strong performance in spring practice, but offseason knee surgery slowed him. Barnett was buried on Arkansas' depth chart behind Smith, Dennis Johnson and De'Anthony Curtis. He played in three games and had two carries until last Saturday.

Even when Barnett did get chances, the results weren't good. His two carries came at the goal line against Alabama. He failed to gain a yard during the Razorbacks' 49-14 loss.

"The problem with Brandon is, he missed all of camp with the knee injury, and then when he comes back he strains his calf and he's out probably two or three more weeks," Petrino said. "Probably about three weeks ago he started to look like the Brandon Barnett that finished spring ball, that could run downhill, was playing physical. He came in and talked to me, which was good. He was hungry and said he felt 100 percent."

Barnett acknowledged the meeting with Petrino after Saturday's game. He said he just wanted a chance to earn more work in practice to show he could help relieve Smith when needed.

"Me and Coach Petrino, we had to get back on the right page and just being committed to the team and giving my all," Barnett said.

Barnett began proving himself on his first carry against the Gamecocks. At 5-foot-10, 206 pounds, Arkansas' biggest back came off the bench and gained four yards on a third-and-2 from the South Carolina 42 to keep a third-quarter drive alive.

He carried four times for 16 yards on the 15-play touchdown drive, which helped the Hogs pull to within 20-14.

"I thought when Brandon came in he did a good job," center Jonathan Luigs said. "We were able to move the ball. We had a long drive with him back there making the plays and getting the first downs. We established the run on that drive. We really just executed the offense the way it should be executed."

Arkansas hopes it will carry over with Barnett expected to earn more work in practice while Smith recovers from his injury.

No other running back will mean more to the Hogs than a healthy Smith, but Barnett could help. Especially when Arkansas needs a big back to gain tough yards on third down or near the goal line.

And if that's his role, Barnett said he'll be ready for it.

"I had a couple injuries, but I took the time out to tell myself I just want to give my all to the team and whenever I get the chance, just go out and get the job done," Barnett said.

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