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Freshman running back to test Gators

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Posted: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 11:04 pm | Updated: 3:04 pm, Sat Oct 5, 2013.

Arkansas running back Alex Collins has started his college career so impressively that even he is surprised.

Collins, a freshman from Fort Lauderdale, became the first Southeastern Conference running back to amass at least 100 rushing yards in each of his first three college games earlier this season. Adrian Peterson was the last tailback from any conference to accomplish the feat, doing so while playing at Oklahoma in 2004.

“I have surprised myself,” Collins told Arkansas reporters last week. “I don’t make or set goals of having this amount of yards. I just come to play and do whatever my coach needs me to do and just try and do it to perfection.”

Collins has come close to perfection.

The 5-foot-11, 206-pounder totaled his fourth 100-yard game of the season by accumulating 116 yards on 14 carries during his SEC debut, a 45-33 loss to Texas A&M on Saturday.

Through four games, Collins is second in the conference behind South Carolina running back Mike Davis with 119.4 rushing yards per game. Collins and change-of-pace tailback Jonathan Williams have spearheaded an Arkansas ground game that ranks second in the SEC, averaging 237 rushing yards per game.

“He’s a complete back,” defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “His numbers speak for themselves what he’s been able to do already this year. He’s a big challenge.”

Collins will be in for his biggest challenge of the season when facing the No. 18 Gators on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Florida boasts the nation’s best rushing defense, holding opponents to a meager 53.5 yards on the ground per game.

Only one of the four defenses — No. 4 Rutgers — Collins has faced to start the season has ranked higher than 80th in the country in rushing defense.

“He is an outstanding player,” coach Will Muschamp said. “Alex is second in our league in rushing. That tells you a lot about his maturity and being able to step in and contribute that quickly.”

Added defensive tackle Damien Jacobs: “They going to line up there and run it there, and they going to run it until you stop them. We’ve got to step it up this week. It’s going to be fun.”

Much like Miami running back Duke Johnson — who Florida limited to just 59 yards on 21 carries during the Hurricanes' 21-16 win against the Gators on Sept. 7 — Collins spurned Muschamp and the Gators for an opportunity to play elsewhere.

During his final two seasons at South Plantation High, Collins rushed for 3,186 yards and 42 touchdowns. Rivals.com rated him a four-star prospect and the No. 13 running back in the Class of 2013.

However, with Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane already planning to attend Florida, Collins committed to Miami before finally signing with Arkansas, instantly becoming first-year coach Bret Bielema’s biggest catch in his debut recruiting class.

Florida was never a serious destination for one of the state’s top-ranked high school players.

“There are so many good players in our state, you can’t sign them all,” Muschamp said. “He’s a heck of a football player, but he’s a great young man.”

Follow Phillip Heilman on Twitter @phillip_heilman.

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