Is Johnson Still The Guy?

Is Johnson Still The Guy?

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas coach Houston Nutt straddled the fence on whether the quarterback position would be up for grabs for a second straight week.

Robert Johnson took all 69 snaps in Saturday's 23-20 loss at No. 4 Georgia. But Nutt said he'll continue to give redshirt freshman Alex Mortensen and true freshmen Cole Barthel and Casey Dick time with the offense during the off week.

"We're just going to keep working," Nutt said during his Sunday press conference. "We'll talk about that hard (today). We'll keep working with these quarterbacks and keep giving them reps. I think they're at a point that they know each day is critical. Each day is critical that they do their best.

"The one that responds the best is the guy."

After opening it up following 34-17 loss against Auburn, it was decided Wednesday that Johnson gave the Razorbacks the best chance to win in a "hostile environment" against Georgia.

Nutt said Johnson "refocused" and made improvements. He was critical of Johnson's second quarter interception which led to a touchdown and a 14-0 Bulldogs lead. Johnson appeared to have Cedric Washington open on a crossing pattern, but didn't see Tim Jennings -- who made a leaping catch -- camped out underneath in zone coverage.

Johnson finished 11 of 19 for 116 yards.

"Besides the turnover, I thought he did some good things," Nutt said. "We played it just the way we planned it out. Use the clock, let the clock run out and snap the ball late towards the end of the 25 second clock. Use your backs. Try to hit a tight end on a (bootleg) ever so often or a play-action pass with Peyton (Hillis) in the flat.

"Everything was good. It's just the interception. You don't want to throw an interception."

Nutt also was unhappy with two decisions Johnson made on the Hogs' final possession. They took over at their own 7 with 2:18 remaining in regulation and a chance to take the lead or tie the game with a field goal.

After picking up a first down, Johnson was flushed out of the pocket on the next play and chased out of bounds for a five-yard loss. Nutt would have preferred that Johnson throw it away once he was outside the tackle box. The next miscue came when Johnson scrambled from sideline to sideline before throwing an incomplete pass. It was ruled Johnson crossed the line of scrimmage before throwing and the illegal forward pass resulted in a loss of down and yardage.

"I think he had a chance to run down the sideline that one time. Get you 15 or 20 yards and get out of bounds," Nutt said. "The quarterback, we depend on that guy to make those kind of decisions and move the chains for us."

Johnson was sacked a season-high four times and had five passes deflected, including three by defensive linemen. Nutt said it wasn't breakdowns in the protection as much as it was Johnson not getting rid of the ball quick enough.

"We're doing very, very short, play-action passes," Nutt said. "On some of those, you're going to have an end come free and you've got to get it up over his hands, just like he does on a screen.

"Our protection has actually been pretty good, except for on a couple of plays."



Familiar Foe

South Carolina, the Hogs' next opponent Nov. 5, has three former Razorbacks assistants on its staff in running backs coach Madre Hill, secondary coach Dave Wommack and co-defensive coordinator John Thompson.

"I feel like I know them pretty well," Nutt said. "It seems like they're not moving around as much (on defense) in the last few weeks compared to what they did at the start of the year.

"As far as advantages, you know them well enough to know what they'll try to do. What they want to do. We've gone against each other in practice quite a bit."

Nutt said the Gamecocks appear to be improving and have won three of their last four games. They scored an average of 40.7 points in wins against Troy, Kentucky and Vanderbilt.



Iron Men

Nutt had plenty of praise for the defense. It entered the game next-to-last in the Southeastern Conference against the run and limited the league's second-best rushing attack to 52 yards on 30 carries.

Defensive linemen Jamaal Anderson, Desmond Sims, Keith Jackson and Marcus Harrison were a big part of that and rarely left the field. Anderson, making his first start, led the team with seven tackles, including 2.5 for loss. He also recovered a fumble.

"We didn't substitute," Nutt said. "Credit the offense for keeping the ball for 35 minutes because (the defense) stayed rested. The defense was getting three and outs.

"We planned (to substitute), but they only had 49 snaps."



Bad Reception

Arkansas receivers didn't catch a pass until Marcus Monk pulled down a 7-yarder with 1:42 remaining in regulation. It was the only reception by a Hogs receiver in the game.

"Receivers want the ball. We have to get them the football," Nutt said. "We're going to work hard at it the next two weeks to get that done. Because it's no secret that we've got a good running game. Even though they knew we were running it, we were still running it.

"We've just got to keep working to find ways to get Marcus Monk, Cedric Washington, Cedric Logan the ball."

With five catches against Georgia, running back Peyton Hillis now leads the team with 25 receptions. Monk has 22 and Washington has 13.



Return To Sender

Despite a knack for catching passes, Hillis muffed two punt returns. He was unable to recover the second fumble in the fourth quarter. It led to what proved to be the game-winning field goal.

Nutt said Hillis would remain the starter, but added that Reggie Fish and Michael Coe will push for the role during the off week.

"Let's get the punt catcher right," Nutt said. "We can't have that. That's too big of a change in possession of yardage there."

Nutt still is confident in Hillis. The Hogs have struggled with finding a sure-handed punt returner since the opener.

"I want (Hillis) to be the guy, but he's got to consistently catch the football for the next two weeks," he said.

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