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November 7, 2007

McFadden makes statement with huge day

There were no premonitions. No signs. No omens.

He didn't dream it, didn't predict it and didn't expect it.

In fact, the only reason to believe Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden would have a record-tying rushing performance last week was that well, he's Darren McFadden.

"I told myself before the game that I feel good, but there was nothing that would make me feel like I'd have 300 yards," McFadden said.

McFadden actually rushed for 321 yards to tie an SEC single-game mark in a 48-36 victory over South Carolina. He and teammate Felix Jones, who rushed for 166 yards, combined for 487 rushing yards to set an NCAA tandem record. In the process, McFadden re-emerged to join Oregon's Dennis Dixon and Florida's Tim Tebow as a serious Heisman Trophy candidate, a status that maybe he never should have lost in the first place.

South Carolina seemed defenseless against McFadden, who had nine carries of at least 12 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown run.

"I couldn't believe it," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said of McFadden's performance. "It just blew my mind. I knew he had a lot (of yards), especially after the 80-yard run. I thought maybe he was over 200.

"If I was a fan and sitting in the stands, I might have been willing to buy another ticket on the way out. That's how good (McFadden's performance) was. When you go back and watch the film, it was unbelievable."

That effort further established McFadden as the Southeastern Conference's most dazzling runner since Auburn's Bo Jackson in the mid-'80s.

Coincidentally, Jackson was the last SEC running back to win the Heisman Trophy. McFadden, last year's runner-up to Ohio State's Troy Smith, was projected to be the next. But when he was held to 43 yards by Auburn, then limited to 61 yards (albeit with four touchdowns) against winless Florida International, his Heisman campaign seemingly was derailed - which puzzled Nutt.

"I was bewildered when I hear experts talking about the Heisman Trophy top three or top four and he wasn't mentioned," Nutt said. "I've been around Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas (at Oklahoma State), and Barry was a Heisman winner.

"Darren McFadden is the best player in the country if you take what he does for our team: blocking, throwing, running, catching, kick returning. No one does all those things. There was a reason he got flown to New York last year when he finished second. There's no way (he shouldn't be a leading contender). Something is wrong. I don't understand that."

Though Nutt is incredulous, McFadden seems unconcerned.

"For me, that's something I'm not concerned with," he said of the Heisman race. "My focus is on trying to get my team to come together."

The Razorbacks (6-3) may be coming together. A 9-7 setback to Auburn on Oct. 13 is their only loss in their past six games, although the overall competition wasn't too difficult. But Arkansas closes the regular season with games against Tennessee, Mississippi State and LSU.

McFadden, who has 1,314 yards, will have an excellent shot at becoming Arkansas' first Heisman recipient if the can close with three strong performance and raise his rushing total to 1,800 or so yards.

Last week's performance may be a sign that he will.

Trivia question

McFadden equaled the SEC single-game rushing record with 321 yards against South Carolina. Who shares that record? (Answer at the end of the column.)

Connor-ing the market

Penn State All-Americans Jack Ham, Greg Buttle, Andre Collins, Shane Conlan, LeVar Arrington and Paul Posluszny head the Lions' legendary list of linebackers.

So taking that alumni into consideration, Dan Connor's accomplishment of setting Penn State's career tackles mark is even more impressive.

Connor had 11 tackles in last week's victory over Purdue to boost his career total to 379. He passed Posluszny, who had 372 career stops.

"Setting it on 'Senior Day' was big," Connor said after the game. "It's the last (home) game, and it's a great way to go out."

Heralded Harrell

Last week against Baylor, Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell set several passing records and milestones.

Harrell was 37 of 46 for 433 yards and three touchdowns in the Red Raiders' 38-7 victory. In doing, so he set a school record for most career 400-yard passing games with 10. Kliff Kingsbury and B.J. Symons each had nine.

Harrell also surpassed 4,000 yards for the second consecutive season to join BYU's Ty Detmer, Marshall's Byron Leftwich and Hawaii's Timmy Chang and Colt Brennan as the only players in Division I-A history to do that.

Quick hits

  • Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer hasn't decided whether he'll start Sean Glennon or Tyrod Taylor at quarterback in Saturday's game against Florida State. Glennon has passed for 693 yards and five touchdowns in the past three games while replacing Taylor, who was out with a sprained ankle. Taylor is fully recovered.

  • Oklahoma will be without defensive end Auston English, its leader in sacks, this weekend. English broke a bone in his ankle in last week's victory over Texas A&M. His absence likely won't create much of a problem because the Sooners face Baylor, which has scored 13 points or less in five of its past six games.

  • Texas will be without three players in Saturday's game against Texas Tech, including starting center Dallas Griffin, who tore an ACL last week. Backup safety Drew Kelson and reserve defensive end Eddie Jones also are out.

  • UCLA sophomore Osaar Rasshan, who was recruited as a quarterback but has played receiver this season, will start at his original position this week against Arizona State. Injuries to Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan have depleted UCLA's quarterback depth.

  • The record 487 rushing yards produced by Arkansas teammates Darren McFadden and Felix Jones last week surely got the attention of the Tennessee Volunteers, who must be concerned. Opposing backs have rushed for 100 yards in each of Tennessee's past three SEC games. South Carolina's Cory Boyd rushed for 160 against the Vols, while Alabama's Terry Grant had 104 and Mississippi State's Anthony Dixon had 108.

  • Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio was angry that Michigan players knelt at midfield for a "moment of silence" after defeating Michigan State. The gesture was in response to a quote attributed to Dantonio after the Wolverines lost their season-opener to Appalachian State. At that time, Dantonio said, "That's a shame, a real shame. Should we have a moment of silence?" Dantonio wasn't in a playful mood this week. "They need to check themselves sometimes," he told reporters. "Let's just remember pride comes before the fall."

    Trivia answer

    Vanderbilt's Frank Mordica rushed for 321 yards in a 41-27 victory over Air Force in 1978.

    Olin Buchanan is a Heisman trophy voter and the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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