FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. –- With the Gatorade, USA Today and Parade Magazine national player of the year starting at quarterback against a Utah State defense ranked near the bottom of the NCAA rankings, Arkansas did the logical Saturday – turn to its two pre-season All-America running backs.
Mitch Mustain started under center in just his second collegiate game, but sophomore backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones carried the load in the 20-0 Razorback victory in front of a crowd of 69,491.
McFadden, limited to 42 yards on nine carries in last week’s loss to No. 6 Southern California after missing most of fall camp with a toe injury, ran for 184 yards on 20 carries, including a career-long 72-yard third-quarter score. His yardage total is the third-best of his career and ties for 20th on UA’s all-time list.
Jones, an All-American kick returner as a freshman who matched McFadden for the Southeastern Conference lead with 6.3 yards per carry last year, had nine rushes for 68 yards. Michael Smith added 40 yards on three carries.
Arkansas has led the SEC in rushing three of the last four years, but was limited to 130 yards on 27 carries in the opener. Against the Aggies, the Hogs ground out 279.
Mustain was named the starter on Sunday after playing the final three series against the Trojans and going four-of-six for 47 yards with an interception and a four-yard touchdown run. Against Utah State, he was nine-of-17 for 119 yards and a touchdown.
Mustain is the eighth true freshman to start a game at quarterback at Arkansas, and the second in two years. Casey Dick, the backup, started the final four games last season.
One of those previous starters is current UA head coach Houston Nutt, who started against TCU, SMU and Texas Tech in 1976.
Utah State, which lost 38-7 at Wyoming last week, came in ranked 98th in the nation in rushing defense (221), 83rd in passing defense (239), 98th in total defense (460) and 95th in scoring defense (38), but UA’s offense was effective and balanced on the ground and through the air.
Following a scoreless first quarter, McFadden capped a six-play, 50-yard drive with a nine-yard touchdown run midway through the second period. UA kept the ball on the ground for five of those plays with McFadden accounting for 36 on four carries.
The Razorback defense forced a USU punt with 1:21 left and Mustain directed the Hogs to a touchdown just before the half.
Taking possession at the 20, Mustain took Arkansas 80 yards in five plays and 59 seconds, capping the drive with a 13-yard scoring pass to Marcus Monk with 22 seconds left. Mustain was two-of-three during the drive, including a 46-yarder to former Springdale High teammate Damian Williams.
The only score of the second half was McFadden’s 72-yard scamper down the left sideline to put UA ahead 20-0.
Defensively, Arkansas, which gave up 472 yards to USC, limited the Aggies to 249 yards and recorded its first shutout since the 23-0 victory at South Carolina on Nov. 9, 2002, a span of 42 games.
UA preserved the shutout by taking over on downs at its eight with 1:32 remaining.
Late in the third period, Dick played for the first time this season. He missed most of fall camp with a back injury, but was two-of-five for 59 yards against the Aggies.
Monk’s three receptions for 56 yards and the touchdown give him at least one catch in every game of his career – a streak of 24 games, which ties for ninth-longest in the nation. Peyton Hillis, who had 58 yards on four punt returns, was the top receiver with four catches for 45 yards.
Leon Jackson was 11-of-28 passing for 114 yards. Marcos Cross paced the Aggies with 103 yards on 29 carries, but he was held to 35 yards on 14 carries in the second half.
With the win, Arkansas improves to 25-3 in non-conference regular-season games under head coach Houston Nutt and 12-0 against current Western Athletic Conference members.
The Hogs open SEC play next week at Vanderbilt in an 11:30 a.m. game televised by Lincoln Financial Sports.