Thirteen weeks later, running backs Dennis Johnson, De'Anthony Curtis and Brandon Barnett will get one more chance to prove they can carry the load without him when Arkansas plays LSU on Friday. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said all three are determined to leave a good impression with Smith out with a hamstring injury.
"They've all been very focused," Petrino said. "They're taking it very serious. They look at it as a great opportunity. I've liked the way they've practiced."
Petrino said Johnson will likely start the game, but Curtis and Barnett will get plenty of chances. The trio has combined for 176 yards on 49 carries this season.
They'll be asked to lift a ground game that has struggled the past three games. Arkansas is 11th in the Southeastern Conference in rushing yards (113.1 a game) and has averaged 71 yards the past three games.
Petrino said the trio would like to change that Friday.
"Every time they're not taking the reps, they're standing right behind the other tailback and going through it mentally," Petrino said. "And they've been helping each other out a lot, too, and that's good."
Redshirt freshman Nathan Dick will start for the second time Friday, meaning his older brother, Casey Dick, will watch from the sideline once again.
So how does the senior feel about the fact his brother has replaced him the past two weeks?
"Any time you're playing with a brother you've got to support him no matter what the situation is," Casey Dick said after Monday's practice. "He's family and when football ends we're still going to be brothers no matter what happens. You can't let that get to it."
Dick said he tried to help his brother identify blitzes, coverages and formations throughout the MSU game and will do the same Friday. Petrino said he would like to play both quarterbacks if the opportunity presents itself, but Dick said he'll continue to root for his younger brother.
"I'm doing good," Dick said. "Like I said, he's my brother and I'm going to support him 100 percent no matter what's going on with it. Just hoping to continue to learn and get better at the game and see where he can go."
It looks like the Razorbacks will have a defensive starter back on the field for the first time in two games.
Linebacker Jerico Nelson is expected to return after missing the South Carolina and Mississippi State game with a knee injury. Petrino said he practiced full speed Wednesday and got in most of the work Tuesday.
"We'll just have to see how it reacts," Petrino said. "But I'm very encouraged that he'll be out there playing."
The true freshman has started seven games this season and has 32 tackles. His return would boost a defense that will play without middle linebacker Wendel Davis.
LSU will be starting its third quarterback this season when Jordan Jefferson lines up under center Friday. And defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said the true freshman will challenge Arkansas with his feet.
Jefferson has played in five games and has just 59 rushing yards. But he has shown play-making ability with his feet the past two games. Jefferson ran for a five-yard touchdown against Troy two weeks ago and had a 20-yard scramble in the 31-13 loss to Ole Miss last week.
"In first and second down situations he's willing to go ahead and make the throw," Robinson said. "He's strong armed. He's confident. He'll throw it and force it.
"But on third down, if the coverage is there, that's where he's a dangerous guy. He's going to take off and run for the first down."
Franklin More Comfortable
Robinson said linebacker Jerry Franklin was in a tough spot when teammate Davis left the MSU game.
The redshirt freshman — who played the first four games at middle linebacker and the past seven at weakside linebacker — moved to the middle to fill in for Davis.
But Robinson said Franklin is better off after getting reacquainted the with position in practice this week.
"I think he feels more comfortable there already," Robinson said. "He's made a great transition. It's hard duty last week in the middle of the game to have to go do it. All of a sudden he had to switch and it hurt him a little bit. But he's really done a good job for us this week."
The Razorbacks held their last workout of the season Wednesday. It was a fact Petrino said was hard to believe.
"I wish we were going to keep practicing and keep our preparation," Petrino said. "But it's the last one for the seniors. We've just now got to get ready for the game."
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