clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Arkansas' 1,000-yard rushing duo will challenge Texas defense

With Jonathan Williams between the tackles and Alex Collins outside, the Hogs can threaten the Horns in different ways on the ground.

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

To suggest that the massive success of the Arkansas Razorbacks' run game is merely due to the massive offensive line that checks in at 6'6 and 324 pounds on average is to deflect due credit from the duo of 1,000-yard backs on the roster.

Junior Jonathan Williams is the bruiser of the duo at 6'0 and 223 bruising pounds, while sophomore Alex Collins is the speed back. Both are capable of producing big plays on any given hand off, but Williams is more likely to do so while breaking tackles and Collins more likely to do so while breaking contain and running away from the defense.

Head coach Bret Bielema isn't exactly the type to gush, but he does when talking about his two talented running backs.

"I can't say enough about both of them," Bielema said during a Texas Bowl press conference. "Those two bring a little tandem that is very, very cool to watch and really cool to be a part of."

After playing in a more pass-oriented offense under former head coach John L. Smith, Williams was so excited for the opportunity to carry the ball more under Bielema that he was waiting outside of his office at 7 a.m., having watched former Wisconsin running back Monte Ball win the Doak Walker award the night before after starring in Bielema's offense.

As a freshman, Williams received only 45 carries as the back up to Dennis Johnson and Knile Davis, but saw the depth chart clear out when Davis declared for the NFL Draft a year early and Johnson graduated.

He took advantage with the arrival of Bielema, breaking out with a career-high 153 rushing yards in the 2013 opener against Louisiana-Lafayette. During the nine-game losing streak that followed wins in the first three games, Williams was only able to break the 100-yard barrier once, but as the team has improved around him in 2014, he has been more consistent when given opportunities, averaging less than four yards per carry only twice, in games against Mississippi State and LSU.

The power back of the two, the Allen product still has an impressive skill set as a runner, including fantastic balance that he showed catching a pass out of the backfield against Texas A&M:

In gaining 145 yards and scoring four touchdowns against Texas Tech earlier in the season, Williams established himself as one of the more well-rounded backs in the country -- he was able to lower his shoulder and plow through defenders, as he did on his first touchdown run, showed off his excellent feet on a jump cut to score his second touchdown, and then ran through arm tackles with ease on both of his final two touchdown runs.

Texas Tech didn't possess the most stout defense around, but Williams also averaged six yards per carry against Georgia, one of the few bright spots in a game where Arkansas fell behind early and could never recover.

"The other guy, Alex Collins, is a highly-recruited kid out of South Florida," Bielma said. "I had met him when he was a sophomore in high school. I stayed after him. A whole wild recruiting story that was one for the ages, but I'm glad we got him here. I think everybody is happy. I think his mom is even happy now that he is at Arkansas and doing the things that he is doing."

In fact, the recruiting story of Collins is one of the most odd situations in recent years. A consensus five-star prospect out of South Plantation High School in Fort Lauderdale, Collins was the No. 1 running back in the country, a fact that made him highly coveted.

As Bielema mentioned, he worked hard to build a relationship over the years with Collins in the efforts of securing his commitment. But just as Collins was ready to sign with Arkansas, his mom wanted him to stay closer to home at Miami, where he had formerly been committed, so she ran off with his National Letter of Intent, keeping Collins from signing it.

Yes, this is a true story. 'Crootin.

The signing was delayed until the next day, but Collins did eventually sign with the Razorbacks.

After arriving in Fayetteville, the speedy back made his impact quickly, becoming the first freshman running back in SEC to gain 100 or more yards in his first three games. By the end of his debut campaign, he had gained 1,026 yards on the ground and averaged 5.40 yards per carry.

This season, he went through some struggles in the middle of the season -- he was suspended for the first half against Alabama and then fumbled on his second carry. Against Georgia, he fumbled again on a pitch, a play that quickly resulted in a touchdown for the Bulldogs.

Since then, Collins hasn't broken the 100-yard mark, but he did average 5.81 yards per carry against a Mississippi State run defense that ended the season ranked No. 21 in rush S&P+.

The clip above illustrates the absolutely insane lateral quickness possessed by Collins to jump a gap and maintain his balance to walk in for an easy touchdown. Not many running backs in the country can do that.

And he's now listed at 214 pounds, so he's not just a speedy scat back without the physicality to hold his own against linebackers. At that weight, he's certainly capable of overpowering smaller defensive backs, as well.

For a young running back, Collins shows a remarkable ability to get behind his offensive linemen and allow them to make blocks for him when pulling. He also possesses the rare skill of being able to turn the corner at full speed -- despite the lateral quickness that he showed in the above play, he's not a guy who wastes a lot of plays dancing in the backfield.

Taking the edge isn't a problem for Collins because he can turn the corner so easily, putting major pressure on opposing defenses to properly leverage him and keep him inside. Easier said than done, certainly.

There's also another scary reality, according to the Arkansas head coach.

"The greatest thing is Alex is a sophomore that has not even scratched the surface of how good he can be," Beliema said.

Hopefully that doesn't happen on the 29th, when the Longhorns attempt to slow down the dynamic duo.