Hayden, Williams give Arkansas a triple-threat backfield
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) —
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema wanted to get running back Chase Hayden as many carries as possible in the season opener, simply to get the freshman used to the speed of the college game.
Bielema's next plan might just be to keep giving Hayden as many carries as he can handle, particularly after the 18-year-old rushed for 120 yards on 14 carries in his debut — a 49-7 victory over Florida A&M.
"As much as you maybe don't believe it, I don't think he was close to what he's shown us at times," Bielema said.
However Bielema chooses to use Hayden moving forward, his emergence has quickly quelled any concerns about Arkansas' backfield depth following an offseason injury that ended the career of former running back Rawleigh Williams.
While sophomore Devwah Whaley is still the top rushing option for the Razorbacks, Hayden and former South Carolina transfer David Williams have given Bielema plenty of running options entering Saturday's game against No. 23 TCU (1-0).
"They've always seemed to though, always whether we were playing them or not, Arkansas always seems to have, they've always had good tailbacks," Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson said. "... This year, this team is no different."
The Razorbacks expected to enter this season with both Rawleigh Williams and Whaley once again leading their rushing attack. The duo combined to rush for 2,000 yards last season, but Williams' career came to an end during the final scrimmage of the spring.
Whaley was largely expected to flourish this season in a lead role, and he didn't disappoint in limited action last week — rushing for 60 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. It was Hayden and David Williams, however, who surprised many in their Arkansas debuts while carrying forward what had been strong preseason camps for both.
Hayden's father, Aaron, played as a running back for Tennessee in college and for four seasons in the NFL. The younger Hayden signed with Arkansas over offers from Michigan, Florida and Tennessee, among others, and showed his knack for reading gaps between blocks and quickness in the opener.
His 14 carries also led the Razorbacks, showing the belief the Arkansas coaches had in him and how important they feel it is to better prepare him before entering play in the Southeastern Conference.
"Getting that many carries early on gives you a lot of confidence that the coaches believe in you," Hayden said.
Williams, meanwhile, had two touchdowns in his debut after using the graduate-transfer rule to leave the Gamecocks and sign with Arkansas in July. The 6-foot-1, 229-pound runner brings a much-needed element of power for the Razorbacks, and he's enjoying the competition for carries and how the three running backs make one another better.
"It's quite scary," Williams said. "Teams are going to have to prepare for three running backs every weekend, and you don't know what to expect. Somebody might have a big weekend this week, somebody might have a big game that week."
AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins in Fort Worth, Texas, contributed to this report.