The Arkansas Razorbacks need a hero to right the ship on Saturday, and Devwah Whaley might be the the captain who leads the Hogs out of treacherous waters after a ugly start to the 2017 season.
Whaley’s role changed dramatically in the offseason, when Arkansas starting running back Rawleigh Williams III chose to retire from football after suffering another neck injury during the Razorbacks spring game. Suddenly, Whaley transitioned from a role player to “the guy.”
He was named to the Doak Walker and Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award Watch Lists before the season. Last year, he was a flash in the pan, rushing for over 600 yards and three touchdowns. Many expected him to take the next step and become one of the SEC’s elite running backs.
So far, the sophomore from Beaumont Central High School has not lived up to the hype. He has put up pedestrian numbers the first two games. If he continues on track at this rushing pace, the talented sophomore will finish the 2017 season vastly underachieving.
Being tutored by coach Bret Bielema has helped many college running backs. He has coached a stable of solid running backs including P.J. Hill, James White, John Clay, Montee Ball, Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. Those players flourished under his tutelage and now Whaley has that luxury of being in the same position.
Chase Hayden might be the most talented running back on the roster, but Whaley is the Arkansas bell-cow. To begin the season, he has been outplayed by Hayden and senior David Williams. Saturday, Whaley needs to reemerge as the the dynamic playmaker Bielema knows he is capable of being.
Breaking out won’t be easy in Week 4. Whaley has a challenge against the Aggies defense. Texas A&M has only allowed 77 rushing yards per game through three weeks, the sixth-best total in the country.
While that number seems ominous in Arkansas fans’ minds, it might be a little deceiving. UCLA was down early in Week 1 against the Aggies, so the Bruins had to pass extensively behind the arm of Josh Rosen. Under coach Jim Mora in 2017, UCLA has only averaged 122 yards on the ground. So, it’s not their bread and butter regardless.
Now, Whaley has a chance to be the first starting running back at Arkansas to beat Chavis during the assistant’s Texas A&M tenure.
In Whaley’s only appearance against Chavis, he rushed nine times for 29 yards, only 3.2 yards per carry, in 2016. If he posts similar numbers Saturday, Arkansas has no shot. But those were stats as a backup.