Many of our favorite Razorback memories involve Ken Hatfield's wonderful back-to-back Cotton Bowl teams of the late 1980s. Therefore, it was a real thrill to get the chance to speak last week with James Rouse, who teamed with with fellow running back Barry Foster to give those Hogs a mighty one-two punch in the backfield. Click here to read part one of our Q&A. In today's second and final installment, Rouse discusses the best players he played with in Fayetteville, where he ranks on the all-time list of Razorback running backs and his frustrations with Ken Hatfield's offense.
Who was the most talented player you ever played with at Arkansas?
We had so many talented players. From Freddie Childress to Wayne Martin to Steve Atwater. Those are some of the big-name guys that people recognize.
Steve Atwater was probably the most talented just because of his size and his ability. He went on of course to play in the pros and played several years and made several Pro Bowls. Out of that whole group that I played with, he probably had the best career at the next level out of all of us.
Arkansas has a long tradition of great running backs. Where do you think you rank among this group? Feel free to cast modesty aside, if need be.
That is a tough question to answer. When I talk to people and people remember me from my playing days, the comments are "I thought you were one of the best running backs that we ever had at the UA, particularly with the offense that you ran."
As opposed to Darren McFadden, Madre Hill, Cedric Cobbs – those guys were feature backs. Considering that I wasn’t one of the feature backs and had to share the ball with three other guys, most people put me in the top three to top five running backs that have played at the U of A.
I think that’s quite an accomplishment, especially with the offense that we ran. I came from a traditional I-back formation in high school into to a flexbone/wishbone offense, which negated a lot of my touches. Coming from having the ball 20 to 25 times a game and then coming to college and carrying it maybe 12 to 15 times a game, I think I was still successful.
Personally, I really don’t harp on that. I was the first back in a while that gained a 1,000 yards in a season. It had been a long time since anyone had done it and then maybe five, six, seven years after that someone came through and did the same thing. [Editor's note: Rouse gained 1,004 yards in 1987. Before that, Ben Cowins in 1978 was the last Hog running back to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. In 1995, Madre Hill become the next to do so.]
Not bragging or boasting, but I think that speaks volumes for my play and also for my abilities. Also, I had a great team that opened up the holes and was able to help me achieve those goals.
Did you ever feel any frustration with the offense?
Oh, yeah. For sure. Not passing the ball very much – Coach Hatfield was very conservative with the pass. We were pretty much a one-dimensional offense.
We passed the ball occasionally. It wasn’t that we didn’t have the quarterbacks to pass the ball, because we did. And we had the receivers as well: James Shibest, Derek Russell. Those guys were great receivers. And we had Greg Thomas and Quinn Grovey, who could throw the ball.
But, that wasn’t our style of offense. Our style was to pound you, get three or four yards here and there and hopefully have one of us break one. It was to grind it out and beat you with the run.
The problem was, when you get behind with that type of offense, that’s when the struggle comes in. Because then, you have to open up your offense. In my personal opinion, that’s why I think we struggled at times: not being a proficient passing team as well as a running team.
As a former NFL running back, what advice would you give to Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis as they begin their NFL careers?
Each situation is different. If you look at Darren – highly rated, highly talented guy who was picked in the top five – he has more pressure on him than the other two guys.
My advice to him is to try and preserve his body. He took a lot of unnecessary licks in college. At the pro level, I think he needs to take a more conservative approach to prolong his career. Typically, an NFL running back averages two to three years in the league. The wear and tear on an NFL body – it can be a detriment to you. My advice to Darren would be, "You don’t have to prove that you can run over everyone. Make people miss and preserve your body."
But, I think he’ll do well. He’s with a team that has been a doormat for the last decade, but I think they can turn it around.
Felix is in a different situation. If you look at his situation, Marion Barber is going to be the guy who is running the ball most of the time. Felix has a great situation, where he can come in and spell Marion Barber and do what he does. Felix is a great back: He has great vision, great quickness, good hands. I think he’s going to do quite well and surprise a lot of people.
Coming out of high school, Peyton was one of my favorites just because he was a good back — a big back, sort of like myself. He had to swallow his pride once he got to the U of A and once Darren and Felix came along, and they moved him to fullback. Which I think was a blessing in disguise because it gave him the opportunity to go to the next level, and now he's starting for the Broncos. I think Peyton is going to have a great career too if they utilize him correctly.
My advice to all three of those guys would be, "Enjoy the times you have right now. Football is not forever. It’s very short-lived. Be thankful that you were able to play because so many guys don’t have the opportunity to make it to that level."
What is your take on Coach Petrino and how do you think you will do at the U of A and what do you think of what you’ve seen so far?
That’s a hard question. I met him once, when I went to Pro Day. He seems to be a pretty nice guy. He’s not a man of many words. I can understand that, and I can appreciate that. Back when I was playing, I wasn’t a guy of many words myself.
He’s left with a team that is not the most talented team that the Razorbacks have ever had. They’ve got some gaps and holes that they’ve got to fill.
If the team rallies behind him, and the fans get behind him, I think he can do well. He came from Atlanta with a lot of negative publicity, but that’s behind him. Now he’s a Razorback.
Fans – and I include myself because I’m a fan now – we’re just going to have to give him a little time. As we saw in the first game, we could have lost to a I-AA team. That tells you right there, we’re not very good right now. But that’s not to say that Coach Petrino is not going to have these guys ready to play every game, but it’s just a lack of depth and a lack of talent that he’s dealing with right now.
As soon as he gets his athletes in and imposes his type of offense and defense — it just takes time. I think we may be two or three years away from being a good team.