FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ SEC opener Saturday against nationally No. 10 Texas A&M hardly seems the setting to increase a rookie running back’s playing time.
However it would not surprise if heralded 4-star freshman flash Devwah Whaley of Beaumont, Texas, logs at least as much if not more playing time than his tenure in last week’s 42-3 rout of Texas State.
Whaley’s playing time vs. Texas State vastly increased over his time used in the Razorbacks’ season-opening 21-20 and 41-38 victories over Louisiana Tech and TCU. His 50 yards on 11 carries against Texas State, including some carries that appeared just "a shoestring" away from taking it all the way, would appear to cinch Whaley playing more against Texas A&M after just four carries total for his two games.
"I think he was about ready to break one," Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. "There were two or three plays on film where he was really just a shoestring away from probably picking it up and taking it to the house. He is a very dynamic player."
Impressive as compact (5-11, 216), strong and fast Whaley showed himself to be running the ball against Texas State, that’s not the major reason to expect to see him in the rotation with starting sophomore Rawleigh Williams and big senior Kody Walker against the Aggies.
Running the ball well is nice. Keeping your starting quarterback intact is nicer.
The Razorbacks cannot afford, especially against a defense with the Aggies’ fearsome pass rush led by All-American defensive end Myles Garrett, to have starting quarterback Austin Allen clobbered because a running back missed his block or failed to execute his fake or run his assigned pass route.
So comments by Bielema, offensive coordinator Dan Enos and running backs coach Reggie Mitchell regarding what Whaley did without the ball likely impacts the confidence to play him against the Aggies even more than what he did with the ball against Texas State.
"The thing also Devwah did very nice, he picked up a couple pressures," Bielema said. "He did some things in protection and pass pro that was very good to see."
Enos said Mitchell asserted the without the ball improvement and that he concurred.
"Coach Mitchell felt really a good about him in the protections last week," Enos said. "It was the first game where we really were like free-flow with him, like, you don’t have to take him out in a passing situation or anything like that. He’s done a nice job. He’s gotten better. I think he’s right where we need him to be going into Week Four."
Of course Enos likes the thought that even against the Aggies, Whaley has touchdown potential on most any play and can hit hard against even that hard-hitting defense.
As a sixth-year senior, Walker was granted a sixth-year because injuries stopped two of his first seasons after two and three games,
His 66 yards on 20 carries may not seem like much but the 6-2, 240-pounder has come through summoned on key third and fourth down carries whether at tailback or fullback.
Williams qualifies as one of the major comeback stories for 2016 college football. Already with 354 yards on 71 carries, 24 for 96 against Louisiana Tech, 28 for 137 in the double overtime triumph at TCU, and 19 for 121 against Texas State, Williams broke his neck during the quadruple overtime SEC victory over Auburn last Oct. 24 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Of course he missed the remainder of the season. Many presumed that would end his career but doctors gave him the OK that his neck was mended.
Williams has proceeded amazingly fearless and amazingly proficient.
For in pure experience, Williams hardly is the experienced veteran that he already is perceived to be.
"He didn’t play a lot in those first couple games last year and was just starting to get in rhythm ,"Bielema said. "And then to get knocked out cold turkey and then obviously coming back from a major surgery, now to be three games under his belt into his sophomore year. We’re just beginning to scratch the surface. He hadn’t played a lot of football but his s ability to affect the game when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands in pass pro or a receiver or just another part of our offense is pretty amazing."