FAYETTEVILLE — Spelling Arkansas sophomore running back Rawleigh Williams during Williams SEC Offensive Player of the Week performance, freshman Devwah Whaley also ran well last Saturday during the Razorbacks' 34-30 SEC West victory over Ole Miss.
Williams netted 180 yards on 27 carries during Arkansas' homecoming at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Whaley didn't tote that big load but helped immensely. The rookie from Beaumont, Texas averaged just shy of 6.0 per run. He netted 65 yards on 11 carries.
Other than his 135 yards on 9 carries during a 52-10 romp over outmanned Alcorn State, it marked Williams' most productive game. His 18-yard run against the then 12th-ranked Rebels marked his longest other than his 75-yard touchdown against Alcorn State.
Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema appreciates every carry that Whaley ran against Ole Miss. But none mark the play against the Rebels that Bielema recalls the most fondly.
Whaley didn't have the ball for his biggest play. In the backfield he blocked the blitzer menacing quarterback Austin Allen before Allen delivered his 10-yard pass on fourth and four to Keon Hatcher. That pass preserved Arkansas' winning touchdown drive achieved with 2:20 left in the game.
All the pass-blocking, blitz pickups that 4-star recruit Whaley didn't much have to do in high school but has been taught since August by Arkansas running backs coach Reggie Mitchell apparently came to fruition.
“A huge growing moment on that fourth down play,” Bielema said. “That was something that was truly just instinctive. I think Reggie has done an unbelievable job. He's got those guys involved in virtual reality. He's got them involved in all the learning opportunities that they can.”
Whaley's practices reps in all phases picked up with addition by near tragic subtraction.
Senior running back Kody Walker, granted a sixth year eligibility by the NCAA because injuries early terminated three of his previous five seasons, couldn't finish this one either.
The last active Razorback to play for Bobby Petrino in 2011 scoring five touchdowns running goal-line in three games, Walker was a tailback out of Jefferson City, Mo. who selflessly played fullback and gained weight accordingly to be a bigger blocker because the Hogs were so tailback deep from 2011 through 2015.
Last spring with a real shot at tailback, Walker dropped 20 pounds and looked great then broke a foot during the summer.
He never completely recovered. The foot so worsened that Walker barely could walk after the Oct. 8 Alabama game. He underwent Razorbacks career ending surgery Monday.
Walker is missed as a short-yardage back and still an invaluable mentor to the young back but his absence creates now creates more practice time for Whaley and T.J. Hammonds, the freshman from Pulaski Robinson elevated to third running back.
“When Kody, God bless him, was still in the mix,Devwah was only getting a certain amount of reps,” Bielema said. “When Devwah's reps increased you saw it last week in our program practice makes a difference. When our guys can practice, that's why they get better. You saw Devwah get better.”
Bielema said cumulative practicing among others has improved redshirt freshman backup tight end Austin Cantrell of Roland, Okla.
and older players like recently promoted third-year sophomore right offensive tackle Brian Wallace, sophomore left guard Hjalte Froholdt, Jake Raulerson, the University of Texas graduate but still a first-year junior starting guard at Arkansas, and young fullbacks Hayden Johnson, a true freshman, and sophomore Kendrick Jackson.
“Austin Cantrell is a redshirt freshman,” Bielema said. “Just because he looks 30 and acts like he's 30 doesn't make him 30. He's still a redshirt freshman. Hjalte Froholdt, Brian Wallace…. Jake Raulerson is in our program now seven games, Hayden Johnson. Kendrick Jackson…”
Bielema cited youth making key defensive plays last Saturday against Ole Miss: Sophomore safety Santos Ramirez and junior heretofore substitute now starting linebacker Dwayne Eugene.
Eugene subs for injured incumbent weakside linebacker Dre Greenlaw.
“Santos is only a redshirt sophomore who hasn't played a lot of football,” Bielema said. “ You get Dwayne Eugene who's been here three years, never been a starter, comes in and plays his tail off. I mean, practice is the chemistry of our program that we all have to take for us to have success.”