Jim Harris: Brandon Mitchell Proves Arkansas Has Capable Backup Quarterback Now

by Jim Harris  on Wednesday, Sep. 14, 2011 3:13 pm  

Brandon Mitchell's play as the No. 2 quarterback has been encouraging for Arkansas. (Photo by Mark Wagner)

This story is from the archives of ArkansasSports360.com.

Bobby Petrino doesn't sound ready to break out the two-headed quarterback system, though he's used one in the past during his time at Louisville. But sophomore Brandon Mitchell's play against New Mexico in the second half on Saturday gave Petrino and his staff — as well as the finicky Arkansas fan base — enough confidence that the team has a quality backup behind starter Tyler Wilson.

Mitchell's performance was good enough that apparently some of the regional Southeastern Conference media, many who likely didn't see the game, were wondering if Petrino was apt to use two quarterbacks interchangeably. At Louisville, Petrino had rising star Brian Brohm and senior Stefan Lefors at the same time and he said that system worked quite well.

Both were different styles of quarterbacks, just as Wilson is seen as the preferred and better passer in Arkansas' quarterback stable, while the bigger Mitchell is viewed as the best running threat. Petrino said he "stole" the two-quarterback system he used at Louisville from Howard Schnellenberger when he was coaching Miami and it was "Quarterback U."

But, by the time the third question about dueling quarterbacks came around in Wednesday's Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference, Petrino stopped all that talk.

"I’m not sure where all the quarterback questions are coming from," Petrino said. "Tyler is our starter. Brandon came in in the second half when Tyler got injured. But I like the combination of the two, I really do. I like the fact you've got Tyler, who can drop back and wing the ball from the pocket. You've got Brandon who can also do that, has worked at improving on it, but right now his strengths might be his ability to run and execute outside the pocket. It's a good combination for us, that's for sure."

After the Razorbacks' spring game in April and against Missouri State in the season opener, it didn't appear Arkansas had any combination at quarterback other that Wilson. Mitchell had a horrendous spring game -- though the coaches quickly tried to explain that it belied his outstanding spring work leading up to the game -- and against Missouri State, Mitchell seemed to have a deer-in-the-headlights look with center snaps from the "shot" formation. Mitchell also fumbled trying to scramble.

Wilson and Mitchell alternated in the first half against seriously out-manned Missouri State. Against New Mexico last Saturday, Wilson commanded the team the entire first half. But his scrambling and willingness to take on tacklers for extra yardage led to halftime headaches and symptoms of a concussion, leading Mitchell to take the reins.

And in a performance that looked nothing like the previous week, Mitchell led three touchdown drives on four series, with the fourth ending on a Ronnie Wingo fumble deep in New Mexico territory. Mitchell, whose one bright spot in the opener was a 41-yard pass to Jervontee Herndon for the longest downfield pass of the season, was precise on his short tosses, did not look deliberate in trying to throw, and showed his running versatile with double-digit-yardage runs, including a 13-yarder to wrap up the scoring in the 52-3 romp in Little Rock.

Petrino said he has yet to find the same kind of combination he had at Louisville with Brohm and Lefors, but he may be closer to seeing it now with the styles Wilson and Mitchell bring.

But Wilson has earned the starter's role, the coach said.

"I really like the way Tyler has played with a very good poise, he's been very calm, he's played with an understanding of what our scheme is, what his responsibilities are," Petrino said. "He throws very, very accurate, and he's been able to move around and smake plays with his legs. I've been very happy with Tyler. He's done a good job spreading the ball around to the guys who can make plays."

Mitchell stepped in after halftime to complete 8 of 13 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. Wilson had twice as many attempts in the first half and completed 18 for 259 yards and a touchdown, along with an interception.



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