In a move that didn't come as a surprise, coach Houston Nutt on Wednesday named junior Robert Johnson as the starter over freshman Mitch Mustain and an injured Casey Dick, ending what had been a short-lived quarterback race.
Nutt realizes that his decision to start Johnson in the Sept. 2 season opener against the University of Southern California might be an unpopular one with some Razorbacks fans. But that didn't impact the coach's thought process.
Johnson started the first seven games last season, including an embarrassing 70-17 loss at USC on Sept. 17. He went 2-5 as the starter before getting replaced over the final four games by Dick, who went 2-2 in that span.
"Robert Johnson, right now, (is) a little older," Nutt said Wednesday night. "I think he's much better than he was a year ago."
Nutt said Johnson has shown over the first two weeks of preseason practices that he's making better decisions than he did a year ago when he struggled to move the offense.
That improved decision-making, plus Johnson's overall experience and close relationship with quarterbacks coach Alex Wood, helped the junior reclaim the starting job.
"I'm more comfortable, and I feel more experienced (than a year ago)," said Johnson, who completed 89-of-158 passes for 876 yards with five touchdowns and six interceptions in eight games last season. "And (I) have confidence in myself, so that helps out a lot."
With Dick still unable to practice because of a nagging back injury, Mustain will serve as Johnson's backup when Arkansas opens the season against USC at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Redshirt freshman Clark Irwin, who was not considered to even be in the mix when preseason practices opened earlier this month, will work as the No. 3 quarterback.
Mustain, the former Springdale High star, had impressed coaches with his maturity and composure, as well as his ability to make throws in practice. But the freshman wasn't surprised with the news that Johnson had been named the starter.
"That's something to be expected. He had a great fall, and I still have a lot to learn," Mustain said. "I support him, and I think the entire team does."
After signing with Arkansas in February, Mustain had talked about wanting to redshirt his freshman season if he wasn't named the starting quarterback. But he said he'll leave that decision up to the coaches.
"It's not my decision, honestly," Mustain. "I guess if Robert goes through and works out and ends up playing the entire year, I guess that (taking a redshirt) is what will happen to me."
Dick was considered the favorite to open the season as the starter. He ended the spring as Arkansas' No. 1 quarterback, but he has missed most of the last two weeks of practice because of a back injury that has been slow to heal.
"All I know is that Casey Dick cannot be ready by the first game. I know that, and so you have to go forward," Nutt said. "I think it was the right and proper time to let our team know who the first-team quarterback is."
Johnson Named Starting QB for Hogs
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