FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — When the name “Sanders” has echoed through the speakers at Razorback Stadium this season, it’s generally been a good thing for Arkansas.
“The Sanders Show,” as dubbed in the state, stars Raheim Sanders at running back and the unrelated Drew Sanders at linebacker. Episode three will be Saturday night when No. 10 Arkansas (2-0) hosts Missouri State (2-0).
Episode two last week was especally good for Raheim Sanders, and he probably gave South Carolina fans flashbacks to former Heisman Trophy finalist Darren McFadden, who scampered for an Arkansas-record 321 yards on the ground against the Gamecocks in 2007.
Wearing a cardinal-red No. 5 jersey just like McFadden 15 years ago, Raheim Sanders gashed South Carolina for 156 yards and two touchdowns in a 44 - 30 win. He joined McFadden and Felix Jones on the list of Razorbacks to post at least 150 yards and two touchdowns on the ground against South Carolina.
“That’s good,” Raheim Sanders said with a laugh after the win. “Of course, I want to be better than those guys. That’s my goal.”
He’s certainly off to a good start. He leads the SEC with 273 rushing yards — second nationally among players who have competed in two games.
Raheim earned SEC All-Freshman honors from the league’s coaches last season after rushing for 578 yards and five touchdowns and adding 11 receptions for 109 yards and a score. He's improved significantly since.
“He’s making decisions faster,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said. “As a running back, he’s got to find the right hole in there, and he’s finding it faster. He’s attacking the line of scrimmage better than he did last year. ... I just think he’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
Sanders goes by the nickname “Rocket,” a title fitting for the burst of speed he shows after taking handoffs. Missouri State coach Bobby Petrino, who formerly coached the Razorbacks, had high praise for the sophomore.
“Rocket’s big and physical,” Petrino said. “In last week’s game he broke a lot of tackles, so you’ve got to be able to get a number of guys to the football and wrap up, be gap sound. Even sometimes teams are gap sound, and he breaks a tackle and makes a big play.”
If it isn’t Raheim stealing the show on offense, it’s Drew Sanders doing so on defense. He was named the Walter Camp FBS National Defensive Player of the Week following Arkansas’ win over South Carolina. He became the second SEC defender since 2000 to have 10-plus tackles with two or more sacks, two or more forced fumbles, and a pass break-up in a single game.
The transfer from Alabama started three games last season and played in the national title game in January. He has quickly adjusted to his new surroundings. He leads the SEC in sacks (three), forced fumbles (two), and is tied for sixth in tackles (16). His 11 solo stops rank fourth in the league.
“I felt comfortable and confident with what our defense had us doing,” he said. “It put me in a great position to make plays, and I just do my best to do my job.”
Pittman hadn’t fully realized the extent of his star linebacker’s performance against South Carolina. A trip to the film room changed that.
“I was asked after the game about Drew Sanders’ play,” Pittman said. “And I thought he had a good game. I didn’t know he had a hell of a game. He did some things that were pretty incredible.”
The Sanders duo has been instrumental in the Razorbacks' climb into the Top 10 for the second straight year, a feat which hadn’t been done since Petrino was at Arkansas in 2010-11.
Follow Ethan Westerman on Twitter: twitter.com/EthWestNWA