Running Back by Committee Returned for Alabama Game, Sam Pittman Explains Why

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Photo by Marty Houston.

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas has had success this year playing four different running backs in games, but had gotten away from that recently in an attempt to make sure redshirt freshman Dominique Johnson got the touches he needed.

Johnson was having huge success in games, but only getting a few carries. Against Alabama on Saturday, Johnson had nine carries for 23 yards and a touchdown. But Trelon Smith, Rocket Sanders and AJ Green each got multiple carries as well. Sam Pittman explained Monday why the team went back to splitting the carries against Alabama and if that was the plan going into the game.

“No, not at all, we got to a point where Dominique had come out banged up a little bit,” Pittman said. “Rocket is still a little beat up with an injury. Smitty came in. I thought he ran the ball hard and did some good things. I think AJ is a guy…he had two runs against Alabama he hadn’t done before. He was in a pile of guys and got another couple o yards. The third-and-one on our backend copy they cut it off because they thought he was done. Then he goes in there and gets another two yards and gets the first down. If he can start doing that he’s going to be a really good player for us. If he can go get those hard yards. I think he had four touches and I think they were all successful plays if I’m correct there. So no it just happened to be that we were a little beat up with a couple of guys. It worked out a little bit different than what maybe we would have planned going into the game.”

Smith led the Hogs with nine carries for 42 yards against the Tide while also catching a pass for eight yards. Sanders carried six times for 18 yards and caught two passes for 16 yards including a 17-yard touchdown. Green had two rushes for eight yards and grabbed two passes for another 10 yards.

On the season, Arkansas has had a lot of runs over 10 yards. Pittman was asked what that says about the running game?

“Well, it probably says a little bit about the offensive line, that they’re doing a good job,” Pittman said. “It says a lot, I think, about the misdirection and KJ (Jefferson) holding people on the backside. If you look at the Alabama game, him and the tight end on the backside held, too, back on the back end. So basically if you’re saying, ‘Hey, if we can hold these guys back here, it gives you a little bit bigger alleys and makes that Will or Mike linebacker depending on your formation – it makes him have to run a little bit further. And then just the diversity of how Kendal (Briles) calls his plays and whom he uses and things. Once we get in a rhythm, we had five drives of over 75 yards and once we get that first first down and we don’t sub – where they can’t either – it makes it difficult on our opponents at times.”

Earlier in the season Missouri wasn’t very successful defending the run. But Friday’s opponent has gotten much better at it in the recent games. Pittman explained why the Tigers are having more success against opponent’s running game.

“They’re moving more up front than over the last couple of weeks,” Pittman said. “They’re bringing a lot of edge pressure, depending on what your formation is where they’re bringing it from. To me, they’ve always played hard, but to me, it’s just about the movement and depending on if you have a running quarterback or not, some things that they’ve taken advantage of, certainly, on their defense.”

Smith leads the team in rushing with 110 carries for 555 yards and four touchdowns. He has added three catches for 20 yards. Johnson has carried 80 times for 479 yards and seven touchdowns with six receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown. Sanders has 93 rushes for 478 yards and one touchdown while catching 11 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. Green has 41 carries for 202 yards and a touchdown while hauling in seven passes for 84 yards and a touchdown. Jefferson has carried 120 times for 496 yards and five touchdowns from his quarterback spot.

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