Quarterbacks Use Scrimmage As Audition

FAYETTEVILLE — The quarterback who took the first snap for Arkansas in the first preseason scrimmage was ...

Sophomore Nathan Emert?

A crowd of approximately 6,500 fans crowded into Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday night hoping to catch a glimpse of the individual who would be named Arkansas' starting quarterback. But they must wait a little while longer.

As sophomore Casey Dick stood on the sidelines wearing a backward baseball cap and nursing a nagging back injury, junior Robert Johnson and freshman Mitch Mustain took the opportunity to audition for the starting job.

"I thought I did all right. I was hoping to do a little bit better," Mustain said. "But again like I said, we had some problems with controlling the ball and then difficulty keeping it dry."

Johnson came in on the scrimmage's second series and got off to a fast start, completing his first three passes to wide receiver Marcus Monk for 20, 21 and 20 yards to set up Felix Jones for a three-yard touchdown run. "Monk got open a lot, so I'm going to hit the open man every time — or at least try to," Johnson said.

Two series later, Mustain took over to a round of cheers from the large gathering of fans. But the former Springdale High quarterback looked shaky at first, throwing an interception to free safety Matt Hewitt on the fourth play of the series and almost getting picked off two plays later.

Mustain settled down, though, throwing three completions before he found sophomore John Aaron Rees in the corner of the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown.

"I thought we looked all right. It was about what I anticipated," Mustain said. "We got a pretty good look."

Johnson completed 7-of-8 passes for 109 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Mustain finished 5-for-8 for 70 yards with one touchdown and one interception. "I was proud of what Robert did. I thought he was very accurate," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "Mitch, after a little slow start, got going, started throwing some good balls.

"So, I think he'll learn; I think he'll only be better next time."

Both quarterbacks made some impressive throws during the roughly hour-long scrimmage, and they each also had a pass intercepted — though Johnson had his called back because of a defensive holding penalty. Both quarterbacks also wore blue "no-contact" jerseys, so they didn't need to worry about taking any hits from the defense as they ran the first-team offense.

But until Arkansas offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn gets a chance to review footage of the scrimmage, he was not ready to say which quarterback helped his chances of being named the starter. "From a fan standpoint, it's nothing like a coach's standpoint. So, we'll see how it goes," Malzahn said. "But I was very pleased with both of them, aside from the turnovers."

While most of the attention was focused on Johnson and Mustain, it was an end-around run by freshman wide receiver Damian Williams that stood out as the highlight of the scrimmage.

Williams, Mustain's former teammate at Springdale High, took a handoff from Johnson, sprinted to the left side of the field, beat a few defenders with a couple of impressive moves and scored a touchdown on the 50-yard run.

"It's pretty special," said Malzahn, William's former high school coach. "I think there will be a little more of where that came from. He's got the ability when he gets the ball in his hands anything can happen."

After a full week of practices, the Razorbacks will not hold a practice today. They will return Monday, which is also when Dick could come back to the field after sitting out with a sore back.

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