J.R. and Henry: Keepng focus
Ideally, the focus of Arkansas Razorback football fans following the team's season opening loss against Southern California would be the game, the reasons for the loss, and the ways to prevent it from happening again. Unfortunately, but not surpisingly given the turn of events on Sunday, that's not been the talk of Hog fans we've encountered in person and through various media outlets. Instead, the debate has centered around the quarterbacks, Mitch Mustain and Robert Johnson, and whether Johnson was mistreated and Mustain was deserving. To get to the point, the answer to both questions is yes.
First, as to Robert Johnson, the reason he's being mistreated is not because he's being demoted. Johnson has chosen to participate in a competitve sport, and he knows as well as anyone that merit is earned on the field. In eight games as starting quarterback for Arkansas, Johnson is 2-6, with wins over Missouri State and Louisiana-Monroe. Against USC, Johnson was 12-25 for 110 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. For his career, he has thrown five touchdowns and eight interceptions, and his longest completion as a starter is 22 yards. While it is certainly true that Johnson did not lose the game for Arkansas (save that criticism for the man who makes $1.3 million a year to win games), this team needs a quarterback to win games, and it's time to give someone else a try.
But even though Johnson has started eight games, it's hard to fault fans who call in and complain that he hasn't been given a chance. That's because all spring and fall the company line from Fayetteville assured fans that Johnson was a completely different quarterback from 2005, and deserved the start. So if you only consider 2006 and forget last year like we'd been told to do, Johnson didn't get much of a chance.
Moreover, when Johnson considered transferring in the spring, he was persuaded to stay and told he would be given a fair chance. He's done what he's been asked, he was given the start against a top 5 team with an excellent defense, didn't play terribly although not particularly well, and somehow lost not only his starting spot, but was told he'd never play quarterback again (unless injury were to befall Must. In 24 hours, Johnson went from starting quarterback to reserve wide receiver. It's hard to imagine any justification for that, and we certainly haven't heard a reasonable one.
So why Mustain? Everyone knows about his high school credentials. A school doesn't get many opportunities to sign the Parade national high school player of the year. And in Mustain's brief appearance against USC, he showed the promise that will likely cause thousands of fans who would otherwise skip the drive to Fayetteville Saturday to make the trip to the Utah State game after all. But more than anything, he's talented, he's young, and he's the future. Let's get to playing him and see what he can do.
The question mark in all this concerns the team's reaction to the unceremonious discharge of their former leader in favor of a true freshman. Last year at Tennessee, it was reported that the players split over who should start, Erik Ainge or Ricky Clausen. That very talented Tennessee team finished with a losing record and never looked to be on the same page. Maybe the reason Johnson was moved to wide receiver was just to avoid this kind of division by taking away the possibility of him returning to quarterback.
But whatever the reason for the move, in the final analysis, it is the right decision to start Mustain now.
Still, we are surprised at Houston Nutt's uncanny ability to take focus off the poor coaching, lack of preparation, and ineptitude of the defense (Reggie's defense, while better, still gave up 50 points - and has given up a record 120 points in two games against USC). While it's not surprising given the current media climate, it is disappointing.
As for the game this Saturday, Arkansas will of course roll. Utah State was dominated on both ends of the field by a bad Wyoming team last week. Wyoming ran for 221 yards on the Aggie defense last week, and I'm sure Arkansas will run successfully on Saturday. One request though: We know Arkansas can run on this team. We know Arkansas wil beat this team. So let's work on the passing offense rather than piling up 400-plus yards rushing.
And after the Razorbacks dismantle this pitiful team, please refrain from saying things are back on track.
J.R and Henry's prediction: 49-3.
J.R. and Henry post their sports column at Little Rocking on Thursdays and Mondays during football season.