Wins most impressive stat for Arkansas' Mustain

Updated: October 24, 2006, 1:52 AM ET
Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- His throws are shorter this year, his stats more pedestrian. Mitch Mustain isn't leading a dazzling passing game like he did in high school.

What he is doing is guiding the Arkansas Razorbacks to victory after victory.

"He's finding a way to help our team win, and at the same time, his teammates are really helping him out there," said Gus Malzahn, Mustain's offensive coordinator at Arkansas and his coach in high school. "It's working good right now."

Mustain arrived at Arkansas this year as one of the nation's most touted freshmen. As a senior at nearby Springdale High School, he threw for 3,817 yards and 47 touchdowns, and his decision to play for the Razorbacks earned him immediate savior status around his home state.

So far, so good -- No. 13 Arkansas is 6-1 and unbeaten since Mustain became starting quarterback in Week 2. But the way Mustain is running the team is a lot different from his spectacular high school days.

Arkansas has perhaps the nation's best running back tandem. Darren McFadden is the Southeastern Conference's leading rusher, and Felix Jones is averaging 9 yards per carry. The offense remains built around those two.

"It helps me," Mustain said. "There's times I'd like to be able to do what I want to do a little bit, but any time those guys are running wild on them, there's no sense in me having to do a whole lot. They've done a great job."

Mustain has shown he can throw deep on occasion, but he's stuck mostly with short passes. In a 38-3 win over Mississippi last weekend, Mustain went 12-of-15 for 157 yards and one touchdown -- when McFadden took a screen and turned it into a 70-yard scoring play.

Mustain has passed for over 200 yards only once -- he threw for 224 and three touchdowns against Vanderbilt in his second start.

"I think he did a fine job," Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said last week. "I think the coaching staff did a fine job of allowing him to do certain things and not asking him to do other things."

Since that performance, Mustain has thrown for over 100 yards only once. His job has been to avoid big mistakes, and he's done that.

Mustain's only major struggles came during a three-interception day against Alabama on Sept. 23 -- and in that game, he bounced back to throw the winning touchdown pass in the second overtime. He hasn't thrown an interception since.

"He's much more mature than I anticipated as far as handling the speed of the game, handling blitzes -- things like that," coach Houston Nutt said. "He does that with a very cool presence."

Mustain's most impressive stat now is probably this one, courtesy of Arkansas' sports information department: He is 60-2 as a starter since the beginning of eighth grade.

"We keep improving each week. We keep adding new stuff and being able to work on new stuff," Mustain said after the Ole Miss game. "I think if we keep doing that, we'll be all right and eventually work to where we want to be."

For now, Mustain doesn't seem to be in much of a rush. Malzahn, hired last December after a successful run at Springdale and other Arkansas high schools, says Mustain has always been the patient type.

"He came out of junior high -- everybody had high expectations," Malzahn said. "He didn't start his sophomore year. As a matter of fact, he played very little until the end of the year. And that didn't seem to bother him."

Arkansas hasn't used much of the hurry-up, no-huddle -- a major aspect of Malzahn's offense over the years. Malzahn says he expects the Razorbacks will go to it "from time to time," and he made it clear the hurry-up, no-huddle can be used even in a run-oriented offense.

And for now, Arkansas appears content to stay with that run-first approach with Mustain ready to do more if asked.

"Obviously, we've been able to run the football effectively and take pressure off our quarterback. So far that's been real good to us," Malzahn said. "And at the same time, we have confidence in him now. If we have to throw the football, we have confidence in him and our receivers and our offensive line to protect.

"We haven't had to throw it a lot, but I really believe we're capable."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

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