NASHVILLE -- Gus Malzahn might have been in need of a shower way before sweat machine Reggie Herring got to him as the two assistant coaches were walking into the door of the Arkansas locker room. Herring enveloped him with one of many bear hugs.
Reminded of the post-game celebration after the 21-19 victory over Vanderbilt, Malzahn smiled big and wide.
"We are a lot closer than anyone thinks, much closer," Malzahn said. "And, we got a lot closer this week. We were under attack from all angles. People were really coming at us. It's an honor to coach with these guys. This was a great team victory, a great staff victory. I love every one of them, coaches and players. It's a great bunch of guys."
And, after a pause, Malzahn decided he wasn't finished.
"You know what, we are just getting started," the offensive coordinator said. "Mitch Mustain showed what he can do. Like some of the rest of those true freshmen we played today on offense, he's just getting started."
Herring, the defensive coordinator, was saying about the same thing in another corner in the locker room.
"Write it this way: team victory," he said. "Offense, kicking game and we did play our butts off on defense. We got bested by a great quarterback, a quarterback who is going to be a star in this league.
"But we battled until the end. We stopped them just far enough out so they weren't quite in field goal range. Yeah, we tackled poor. Yeah, we got bested by a courageous quarterback who could make plays even when we chased him 25 to 30 yards backwards. After that play, where he ran backwards and then threw it up to get the fourth down yardage, I thought to myself that this one might not be in the cards. But we did enough. We didn't tackle, but this is not the time for negatives. This was a great win.
"We'll learn from our mistakes. You can go look at film after a win and correct and get better. We needed this one."
Malzahn loved what he saw of Mustain, the quarterback, and London Crawford, another true freshman. That tandem hooked up twice for 45 yards. Ben Cleveland and Damian Williams, two more rookie receivers, combined for four more catches.
"Those four freshman did some great things, but they should get better," Malzahn said. "You can see them making adjustments, doing the things they are being taught. You see now that we have the pieces of the puzzle. I really, really think this offense is going to take off now.
"Crawford is special. He's been banged up and is just now getting back to where he can play on that knee. I don't know if he's full speed, but he's close enough for me. He's going to start getting the ball a whole lot more."
Crawford was giving Mustain grief in the locker room, in a joking way, for not leading him on his 41-yard completion that got the Hogs started on their winning touchdown drive.
"He didn't put it out there far enough," Crawford said. "I'm going to really get him when we get home. Naw, not really, I love that guy. He's a great player. He made some great throws."
Mustain admitted he was disappointed that he didn't hit Crawford in stride.
"That one should have been a touchdown and it's my fault because I underthrew London and I brought him back to the safety a little bit," Mustain said. "With the way he runs, if I'd put it in the right spot, he was gone."
Like Marcus Monk, the junior wideout who scored the Hogs' first TD on a 56-yard strike from Mustain.
"It was a pleasure just to be on the field on that play, just a perfect execution by Marcus and Mitch," Crawford said. "It was me, Damian and Marcus out there. There was a double coverage, but did you see the read Mitch made and that pump. Wow. That was big-time."
Another freshman did get into the end zone. Ben Cleveland hauled in a strike from Mustain to finish the 93-yard drive for a 15-yard TD. It was the same tackle-eligible play that the Hogs ran for a near touchdown against Southern Cal.
"I was actually lined up like a tackle, just a man over from the guard," Cleveland said. "Mitch waited a little late to throw it in my mind. I wanted it a little quicker. But I was getting in this time."
Mustain said, "We shifted out of a tight formation and they didn't ID Ben again this time either. It was there again."
So how did Mustain feel about his 13 of 20 passing day for 224 yards and three TDs?
"I was a lot more comfortable today," Mustain said. "I was still a little shaky right at the start, but I got over that pretty quick. It was definitely a good game for me personally. I had to come out and find where I needed to be and I think I did that for the most part. We needed that."
A lot of folks needed the victory, especially the coaches.
"Oh, the kids needed it more than we did," said Mike Markuson, the offensive line coach. "Gus had a great game plan and Mitch Mustain made a bunch of big plays executing it."
Hogs stay together in tough week
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