By ERIC W. BOLIN
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Darren McFadden and Felix Jones make for some serious company. Rocket Sanders can now say he’s there with those all-time Arkansas running backs.
The Razorbacks’ sophomore running back ran for a career-high 156 yards and two touchdowns in helping the No. 16 Razorbacks beat South Carolina 44-30 on Saturday.
Sanders joined McFadden, twice a Heisman Trophy finalist, and Jones, the player with the sixth-most yards rushing in school history, as the only three Arkansas players to run for 150 yards and two scores against the Gamecocks.
“Um, that’s good,” Sanders said after the game. He half-chuckled his next sentence.
“Of course I want to be better than those guys.”
Sanders ran for 578 yards and five touchdowns in his first season last year. With returning starter Dominique Johnson still sidelined recovering from a knee injury suffered in the Outback Bowl, Sanders has taken nearly all of the first-team reps. The result has been a 2-0 start for his team and him becoming the first Razorbacks player since 2019 with back-to-back 100-yard games.
Sanders scored the first two touchdowns of the game as Arkansas (2-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) found the end zone on each of its first three possessions against South Carolina and opened a 21-3 lead. The Gamecocks (1-1, 0-1) responded with two straight scores at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second to pull within 21-16.
Sanders wouldn’t score again as KJ Jefferson was the keystone for a bulk of the Razorbacks’ second-half touchdowns, but he ran for 95 of his 156 yards in the final 30 minutes.
Arkansas ran for 295 yards, and AJ Green and Rashod Dubinion also chipped in touchdowns.
“I was really proud of our offensive line. We asked them to kind of control the game and I felt like they did. I think the offensive line wore them down,” Pittman said.
Jefferson led a 14-play, 59-yard drive capped with his own 2-yard rushing touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter to move Arkansas back ahead by two scores. South Carolina lost a fumble on its next possession and Jefferson added a touchdown pass to Warren Thompson in response, ultimately putting the Gamecocks too far behind to rally.
Spencer Rattler tried. The Oklahoma transfer threw for 371 yards and a touchdown on 23 of 38 passing with a touchdown for South Carolina, but was intercepted in the end zone midway through the fourth quarter by Dwight McGlothern. The Gamecocks had three turnovers.
Jefferson was 18 of 21 passing for 162 yards and a touchdown. He ran for another 67 yards and the score on 19 carries.
“I thought he played better today than he did last week. I thought he was more accurate,” Pittman said. “I thought he was in total control. … He pretty much can take over the game when he wants to.”
Johnson is expected to return in Week 3 against Missouri State. He might find himself short on carries as Sanders’ development has put the sophomore in high company.
“I think he’s becoming an all-around back a little bit more,” Pittman said. “I thought he played really, really well. Two 100-yard days back-to-back is pretty good. He’s a better back than he was a year ago.”
South Carolina: The Gamecocks had moments, but consistency was lacking in coach Shane Beamer’s second year.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks’ defense held up well without two starters in the secondary, including former freshman All-America safety Jalen Catalon.
A BIG LOSS IN A BIG WIN
Pittman said after the game that preseason All-SEC safety Jalen Catalon would miss the rest of the season because of a shoulder injury. Catalon was lost midway through Arkansas’ win over Cincinnati last week.
Catalon was a freshman All-American two seasons ago, but missed the back-half of the Razorbacks’ season last year because of a shoulder injury.
IT’S BEEN A WHILE
Arkansas’ win over South Carolina was the Razorbacks’ first since 2011. The teams had met only three times since before Saturday with the Gamecocks winning each.
Arkansas likely won’t do any worse than staying put at No. 16 when the polls are released Sunday.
South Carolina: Hosts defending national champion Georgia in Week 3
Arkansas: Missouri State comes to town next week, lea by former Razorbacks head coach Bobby Petrino.
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