Hogs Turn To Recruits For Offensive Help

FAYETTEVILLE -- It's no secret that Arkansas coach Houston Nutt has made a commitment to improving an offense that sputtered at times last season.

First, Nutt decided to shake up his staff by hiring an offensive coordinator and a quarterbacks coach that he hopes will bring new ideas -- and more importantly, additional scoring to the offense.

And then, Nutt announced Wednesday evening the 25 signees -- and one mid-term signee -- that make up a recruiting class that includes four of the "Springdale Five" and enough wide receivers to fit new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's high-powered system.

The Razorbacks showed their strong desire to bolster their offense by signing seven wide receivers, three running backs and Springdale High School quarterback Mitch Mustain, whose recruitment was perhaps the most closely followed in Arkansas history.

"When you do get a (player like) Mitch to come back and recommit, it's a domino effect," Nutt said following an hour-long news conference in Arkansas' Brandon Burlsworth Team Film Room. "We didn't plan on taking that many receivers, but you can't turn down athletes like that. You just can't do it.

"All receivers want a good quarterback."

Mustain, one of the nation's most coveted quarterbacks, highlighted a recruiting class that Scout.com ranked as the nation's 30th best. The Hogs signed four defensive linemen, added depth at linebacker and brought in a big-time tight end prospect in Springdale's Ben Cleveland.

After the Hogs finished last season with a disappointing 4-7 record and missed out on making a bowl game for the second consecutive year, Nutt and his coaching staff made a conscious effort to target wide receivers and linebackers during the recruiting process.

The Razorbacks signed four linebackers, including Van Stumon from North Little Rock High School. But Arkansas' coaches left little doubt in the week leading up to National Signing Day that they wanted to add more skill players on offense.

Nutt and his assistants made a strong push over the last few days to pick up Springdale wide receiver Damian Williams, as well as London Crawford from Davidson High School in Mobile, Ala.

"If you look at these receivers, they're all spread offense-type receivers," said Malzahn, who was hired after leading Williams to a state championship as Springdale's head coach. "They understand coverages, leverages and they're going to help us.

"And the guys that are coming with me from Springdale, they're going to help implement our offense and show these other guys, these veterans, (what to do)."

Nutt said he didn't target a different type of player after Malzahn was hired in early December to rejuvenate an offense that averaged 25.7 points per game and ranked 11th in the Southeastern Conference in passing offense (143.7 yards per game).

Nutt had wanted to bring in several wide receivers to help add another dimension to the offense, and he got a quarterback who could also do that with the strong-armed Mustain.

Mustain, rated by Scout.com as the nation's top quarterback prospect, committed to Arkansas during an August news conference that was broadcast on local TV. But he surprised Nutt by announcing in December that he was reopening his recruitment after former Arkansas quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Roy Wittke was fired.

But after much uncertainty, Nutt officially got the local star quarterback he had wanted from the beginning on Wednesday.

"Anytime you have the No. 1 player in the country -- not the No. 1 player in your state, not the No. 1 player in the South -- but the No. 1 player in the country and you have him in your backyard, you've got to pull out all stops to get him," said Chris Vaughn, Arkansas' recruiting coordinator.

Other than falling one offensive linemen short of the four he had hoped to sign, Nutt said he addressed every need there was heading into the recruiting season. The Razorbacks brought in two junior-college transfers at safety and one cornerback.

And it didn't take long for Nutt to be asked about the quarterback controversy that will likely come this fall as to whether sophomore Casey Dick or Mustain will be Arkansas' starting quarterback.

"You bet. Bring it on," Nutt said. "Let's go."

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