Collins enjoying early success
Running back tandem working well for the Razorbacks
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Alex Collins had to wait an extra day in February before signing his national letter of intent with Arkansas.
The brief postponement has proven worthwhile for Collins and the Razorbacks, who look to remain undefeated Saturday when they host Southern Mississippi (0-2).
After just two weeks, Collins leads the Southeastern Conference with an average of 151.5 yards rushing. His 172-yard effort in a comeback win against Samford last week marked the first time in school history that a freshman has opened his career with back-to-back games of more than 100 yards on the ground.
The performances have hardly come as a surprise to coach Bret Bielema.
"I've watched Alex for three years," Bielema said. "He's a very gifted player. He can turn a play in a minute."
For all of Collins' recent success, his first foray into the national spotlight came in February. The highly-coveted running back from South Plantation High near Fort Lauderdale, Fla., verbally committed to play for the Razorbacks two days before signing day.
However, his mother no-showed at his signing ceremony and refused to sign the letter of intent — leading to plenty of attention across the country. Collins signed with Arkansas (2-0) a day later, with his father providing the written consent required by NCAA rules, and he quickly did his best to put the potentially embarrassing situation behind him once he arrived on campus over the summer.
"I know I came in just trying to move on after all that," he said. "Just put it to the side and move on to the next thing. I just kind of put that to the side and just started focusing on how can I get better and help the team right away. That was my main focus."
One of the first teammates the 5-foot-11, 206-pound Collins met and worked out with was fellow running back Jonathan Williams. The two have since forged a mutually-beneficial friendship, both on and off the field.
Williams entered the season as what Bielema called the team's "go-to" back after a freshman season last year spent backing up incumbents Knile Davis, Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo. So far this season, the 6-foot, 222-pound sophomore has lived up to Bielema's preseason billing — rushing for an average of 138.5 yards through two games, third in the SEC.
While some running backs might have a concern about sharing the workload with a talented underclassman, Williams has embraced his shared spotlight with Collins. The two regularly signal each other for breaks during games, and they've both received plenty of carries through the first two.
Collins leads the Razorbacks with 45 carries, while Williams has 35. Regardless of who has more attempts, Williams knows splitting the carries is a key factor in why he feels fresh.
"I saw the way that Knile and Dennis and Ronnie Wingo worked together," Williams said. "There was no animosity between those guys, as well. The whole running back group jells well together. Everybody is going to get carries."
In what has been a run-focused offensive system under Bielema so far, there have been plenty of carries to go around. In fact, after falling behind to Samford in the third quarter last week, Arkansas didn't attempt a single pass in the fourth quarter while rallying for a 31-21 win.
The Razorbacks rushed 20 times for 163 yards in the fourth quarter, including a 55-yard run by Collins during a drive that ended with his first touchdown.
"He's a big playmaker, that's for sure," quarterback Brandon Allen said. "Between him and Jonathan, they're a great 1-2 punch. They definitely keep defenses honest with the run game, and they're able to make big plays when we need them."
Collins said he has been surprised by the quick success he's had so far, but he's also aware that the team's strength of schedule jumps notably next week at Rutgers — followed by the SEC opener against Texas A&M.
"I know I've got to stay humble about it because it's the beginning of the season," Collins said. "I've got to prepare myself for the next game. I can't keep thinking about past games ... I appreciate everything my team has done for me to help me get that, and I'm honored, but I've got to move on."