Like Other Freshmen, Mustain Has Growing Pain

FAYETTEVILLE — The college football season is a grind, and the addition of a 12th game has made it only worse.

From the start of preseason practices in August to the end of the regular season in late November, there are countless practices and usually one game a week.

Perhaps no player feels the toll of a long season more than a freshman starting quarterback. Everything is new, everything is moving fast and there isn't much time to catch up.

After eight games, including seven as a starter, Arkansas quarterback Mitch Mustain admits he's beginning to feel the grind of his first season in college football.

"There are days when I just really don't want to do anything. It's getting to the point where you just don't want to do it," Mustain said this week. "But it's a lot of fun when we get out there on Saturdays, so we keep going and get ready for a big game."

Mustain has had mixed results in his first two months as a college quarterback, though No. 12 Arkansas has won all seven games that the 18-year-old freshman has started. He'll make his eighth start at 6:45 p.m. Saturday at South Carolina.

At times, the former Springdale High star has shown the arm strength and ability that made him perhaps the most coveted recruit to ever come out of Arkansas. But he's also endured the sort of growing pains that come with being a freshman starter.

Mustain has thrown a touchdown pass in every game he's started, but he's also had trouble with his accuracy and finding a rhythm early on. So far, he's completed 64 of 121 passes for 853 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

The transition from high school star to college newcomer has been much of the same for Georgia's Matthew Stafford and Florida's Tim Tebow. Sometimes things go smoothly and other times not so much.

"The speed of the game is probably the biggest difference (from high school to college), so absolutely you need patience" with a freshman quarterback, Florida coach Urban Meyer said.

"I've seen it happen the other way, you play a guy before he's ready and then you shake that confidence. And (with) a quarterback, it takes a while to get it back, so we're very cautious about that."

Ideally, college coaches would rather redshirt a freshman so he could spend his first year learning everything that goes into being a starting quarterback. But Arkansas coach Houston Nutt and Georgia coach Mark Richt didn't have that luxury with their prized recruits.

Mustain was thrust into the lineup when returning starter Casey Dick was bothered early on by a nagging back injury and junior Robert Johnson struggled in a 50-14 season-opening loss to No. 9 Southern California.

Since then, Mustain has had to learn on the fly. He's also had to deal for the first time in a while with being off-target with his passes.

He was briefly benched in the first half of Saturday's 44-10 win over Louisiana-Monroe after throwing a pair of early interceptions.

"We just missed the smallest margins last Saturday," Mustain said. "We could have had a lot of big plays, I think, if we keep executing those. Get those (and) we'll be all right and nobody will be talking about it."

Stafford, meanwhile, has become the latest in what has become a revolving door of quarterbacks at Georgia this season. He's 3-1 as a starter, but he's thrown three touchdown passes compared to nine interceptions. He's only averaging 111.1 yards passing per game; Mustain is at just 106.6 ypg.

"(Stafford) is not really a true freshman quarterback as much now as when he first started out," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "He's got some starts under his belt, he's got a lot of passes under his belt. He's thrown for 1,000 yards already and so he's been around the block a little bit."

Unlike Mustain and Stafford, Tebow has been fortunate to not have to start immediately. Though he gets considerable playing time, he's officially the backup to Florida four-year starter Chris Leak.

Mustain, Stafford and Tebow were among the top quarterback recruits coming out of high school last year. But potential doesn't always translate into immediate success.

Mustain said he has paid attention to how Stafford and Tebow have done in their first seasons, but he didn't think he'd be a starting quarterback in the SEC this early.

"I didn't expect it," Mustain said. "I kind of expected Stafford to be starting, so I guess it turned out how I thought it would. But I sure didn't expect to be here."

It hasn't been easy along the way.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories