Hogs' Smith has more in the tank for stretch run

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Arkansas’ Michael Smith isn’t running down any rushing titles this season, and he’s just fine with that.

For one, he’ll probably still be running when the Hogs get to the end of the season. He wasn’t a year ago.

When you’re 170-some pounds in the SEC and taking the beating Smith does, you’ll take all the help you can get. He didn’t have any last year. He has plenty this year.

And while it’s been an adjustment for the Hogs’ All-SEC running back, he understands that not getting the ball two out of every three plays is better for him in the long run and better for Arkansas’ team.

“We were one-dimensional last year, and it made it easy for teams,” Smith said. “They’d load up the box and play man [coverage] on us, and there wasn’t a lot we could do. Now, we’re daring them to do that. With our corps of receivers, I don’t think that would be too wise.”

Smith has been slowed this week with a hamstring injury. He said it’s not the same part of the hamstring that required surgery in the offseason and forced him to miss the spring.

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino has called Smith a game-time decision Saturday against No. 1-ranked Florida, but Smith said that he’s felt better every day and fully expects to play against the Gators.

Unlike a year ago when the Hogs were leaning almost exclusively on Smith, he’s been just a part of the offense this season.

Through five games, he’s rushed for 325 yards and two touchdowns on 50 carries. He’s averaging 6.5 yards per carry and has also caught 11 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown.

A year ago, Smith piled up 70 carries in back-to-back games against Auburn and Kentucky.

Those days are gone. The Hogs are picking their spots with him, although he’s coming off his busiest game of the season last week in the 44-23 win over Auburn. Smith romped for 145 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.

“I don’t take plays for granted because we have so many more weapons this year,” Smith said. “We’ve got a lot of quick-strike guys. You never know when somebody’s going to score, so you better do something with it when you get the ball.”

Smith, who carried it 207 times for 1,072 yards last season, concedes that he’s become more of a situational player in this offense.

“Coach Petrino is more of a situational guy,” Smith said. “He has his plays he’s going to run on third-and-short and third-and-long and the person he wants to use. I know once we get inside the 10- to 15-yard range, that’s no longer my zone. He wants to use that for bigger guys. I have to capitalize outside that range.

“I’m not the every-down back I was last year in this offense, because we’ve got more guys. But I knew that’s the way it was going to be and was prepared for it. It’s been a little bit of an adjustment, but not too bad.”

Smith, who weighed in the mid-160s for much of last season, says he’s up over 175 pounds right now. The added weight and less wear-and-tear should make him more effective during the second half of the season.

“I was running on an empty tank last year, but now I’m able to regroup a lot faster,” said Smith, who suffered a concussion in the Kentucky game last season and then later had the hamstring issue, which forced him to miss the finale against LSU.

“I really believe my best is yet to come. I want to turn it on this second half of the season, and they’ve done a good job of keeping me fresh and spreading the ball around. Because of that, I think I can be more of a factor down the stretch.

“I’ve been at this now for five years. I know I’ve got to keep my body in order. But I hope to make this second half of the season a memorable one personally and especially for these Arkansas fans, who’ve been so good to me.”