Hogs' Chase Hayden stands out against Rattlers
By Nate Allen
Chase Hayden is aptly named, the Florida A&M Rattlers certainly surmised.
For the Rattlers forlornly chased Hayden last Thursday night at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
The University of Arkansas freshman running back from Memphis averaged 8.6 yards a pop including a 17-yard touchdown. His 14 carries for 120 yards hailed Hayden as the game’s leading rusher while the Razorbacks romped 49-7 in their season-opener.
Powerful sophomore Devwah Whaley, 12 carries for 60 yards and a touchdown, and David Williams, the senior graduate student transfer from the University of South Carolina, 7 carries for 23 yards and 2 touchdowns plus catching two passes for 37 and 9 yards, excelled too.
However Hayden’s extra gear ability to “make something out of nothing,” that Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema cited after all of Arkansas’ preseason scrimmages stood out again Thursday night.
“As you can see, he can make a lot of things happen in a short amount of space,” Bielema said during Thursday’s postgame in Little Rock. “He’s very dynamic.”
More precociously dynamic than even Bielema believed.
“On film, he's a great player but his level of competition in high school (Saint George’s Independent School) was a little bit different,” Bielema said. “So we didn't know how well it was going to translate.”
Of course having former University of Tennessee and NFL running back Aaron Hayden as a father likely accelerated Chase’s translation.
“As soon as he came to campus, the ability that he has to learn, regurgitate the game and understand the way that we play here was quick,” Bielema said. “You could see right away he was going to have an impact. We knew we were going to play him and couldn't be happier.”
Especially since the first flaw that Bielema and running backs coach Reggie Mitchell detected in the early preseason proved corrected against Florida A&M.
“ I thought he was a little loose with the ball when we first started repping,” Bielema said. “He's really concentrated on ball security and it was really good today.”
Hayden, 5-10, 191 is the smallest and shiftiest of the three backs with Whaley going 5-11, 216 and Williams, 6-1, 226 but runs with surprising power inside and a decisive burst off his first cut.
“"I thought Chase did what he's been doing all fall camp for us," Arkansas fifth-year senior starting quarterback Austin Allen said. "Hitting the hole hard and making guys miss, making cuts. First game for him and over 100 yards is pretty special."
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Whaley and Williams surely would have posted stats more special than they posted against Florida A&M with more carries.
But Bielema most wanted to initiate Hayden before the Big 12’s TCU Horned Frogs, 1-0, annihilating Jackson State, 63-0 last Saturday, visit Reynolds Razorback Stadium at 2 p.m. Saturday in Fayetteville on CBS.
“Chase, I just wanted to rep more to get him game ready,” Bielema said. “Obviously David (lettering three years at South Carolina) has already played in the SEC, and Devwah (110 carries for 602 yards last season) has as well. So it was important for us to rep him. That's why we kept him in there a little bit longer.”
Williams welcomed that all got needed work but were not overworked.
“I think it's great giving us all an opportunity to play," Williams said. "Normally you've got one running back to play, but having all of us keeps everybody fresh and able to make plays."
Bielema believes their contrasting styles can bedevil defenses.
“I think the combination of him (Hayden), Devwah and David, we really have three really unique players at that position that will kind of present a preparation nightmare for our opponents,” Bielema said.
Hayden still has off the ball lessons to learn from David Williams and Whaley just like Whaley did last year learning blitz pickups from former teammate Rawleigh Williams, last season’s SEC regular-season leading rusher compelled to retire from football last spring because of his second severe neck injury.
Austin Allen threw his first touchdown of 2017 last Thursday instead of getting sacked because Whaley blocked a blitzer.
“A running back doesn’t go to college for blitz pickup,” Bielema said noting what’s expected out of the typical star running back in high school. “He’s running routes and running plays and not necessarily taking on a big linebacker. That’s the last part of Devwah’s game and I think he’s doing it really well.”