ATHENS, Ga. -- Darren McFadden doesn’t quite have the passing game figured out, but on this Arkansas team that’s not much of a knock.
McFadden missed on his only throw, a jump-ball floater off a fake sweep on third-and-7 from the Georgia 17 early in the fourth quarter. Give him credit, however. He was the only Razorback to throw the ball in the neighborhood of Marcus Monk in the end zone, even if it was against double coverage.
That’s about the only thing McFadden didn’t do in a 23-20 road loss to No. 4 Georgia on Saturday. The Pulaski Oak Grove phenom did to Georgia’s proud defense just what he’d done in his two previous SEC outings against Alabama and Auburn.
One veteran SEC observer who had witnessed McFadden’s 70-yard touchdown run against Alabama four weeks ago chuckled when the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder took off on another 70-yard TD romp late in the second quarter against the Bulldogs.
“He’s getting better,” he said. “He didn’t do that to Alabama until the fourth quarter. He’s the best back in this league already. They may not can throw it, but Arkansas can run it on anybody with that guy.”
That was the sentiment in the Arkansas dressing room. The Hogs have seen enough of McFadden and fellow freshman slasher Felix Jones to talk about winning out and going to a bowl.
“That’s what I think we can do,” said left guard Stephen Parker. “Those guys are something, both of them. I’ve got some confidence in winning out now. That’s our goal, winning out and going to a bowl.”
What? Just five or six days ago these players were wondering who was going to play quarterback.
“Yeah, it’s been a strange week, but I think what we decided was that we need to put it in the lap of the offensive line and these backs and just hammer and hammer,” Parker said. “Today you saw it. Georgia is good against the run. We came out and said, ‘We are going to run it today.’ Their whole team knew that’s what we were going to do. All of their coaches knew we were going to run it and we still did it and could have won.
“What we did today and what Darren McFadden did gives us hope that we have kick-started something and we are going to run the table.”
Thanks to McFadden, Parker’s point has some merit. McFadden carried 31 times for 190 yards with two touchdowns. It wasn’t always pretty, but there were plenty of plays that ended with the last Bulldog getting McFadden on the ground.
“You know that with him, you just get him in the secondary, he’s gone,” Parker said. “He’s going to split those defensive backs and they are not going to catch him. You pound, chip, pound and then there he goes.”
McFadden wasn’t surprised by the heavy work load and said there were only “a couple of plays” where he felt tired. Those came in the fourth quarter, just about the time Jones caught fire. He rambled 20 yards with a screen and then 35 yards on a sweep to key a six-play, 65-yard touchdown march which finished the scoring with 4:53 left.
“Those two are special players,” said Mike Markuson, the offensive line coach. “Darren is a great player, but so is Felix.
“But what you have to know is that every one of these guys in this locker room is hurting right now. They wanted to win this game, not come here and play them close. They need a victory against a team like this and we came close. All that does is tear your guts out.
“The good news is that we played as a team. This was better. Offense and defense both played their guts out. You see it in their eyes, the disapointment after playing hard and losing.”
You could see that in McFadden’s eyes when he said it didn’t matter that he broke the school’s freshman record for yards in a game and for a season.
“Nice, but it would mean something if it came in a victory,” McFadden said. “I’d be happy if we could get to winning.”
Those Hogs get an open date before they go after Parker’s goal of running the table.
“We just need something good to happen for these players and then they might be tough the rest of the way,” Markuson said. “There hasn’t been much good happen for them all year. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster -- people talking bad about them in the newspaper, on the radio and on campus. No one has said one good word about them.
“That’s why I’m proud of them. No one but the people on the bus gave us a chance today, no one.”
It’s obvious that as long as the Hogs have Darren McFadden, there is at least some kind of a chance even against the SEC’s best.