COMMENTARY: Mortensen, Mustain sagas bothersome
By Brandon Harris Arkansas Traveler

Fayetteville, AR (CSTV U-WIRE) -- After all of the offseason chaos with the Arkansas Razorback football program - anywhere from the Mitch Mustain saga to the hiring of a high school football coach as the team's offensive coordinator - only one thing has ailed me to the point where I can actually say it annoyed me.

It's the Alex Mortensen situation.

Mortensen, a redshirt sophomore reserve quarterback for the Razorbacks, had quite the interesting holiday break. During the break from school, his father, ESPN football analyst Chris Mortensen, announced that his son would likely transfer from Arkansas.

In his first season, Alex Mortensen played in four games for the Razorbacks, completing 6-of-17 passes for 63 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

His most notable performance came Sept. 17 against then-No. 1 Southern California in a contest where Arkansas was obliterated 70-17. He replaced then-starting sophomore Robert Johnson, who left the game in the second quarter with a sore back, and completed 4-of-10 passes for 38 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Johnson started the next four games before coach Houston Nutt named redshirt freshman Casey Dick the starter for the Nov. 5 game with South Carolina.

Dick kept the starting job for the rest of the season, and Alex Mortensen remained third-string.

Alex Mortensen later decided the destination of his transfer - Georgia Southern University. Conveniently, at Georgia Southern, he would be able to play immediately as NCAA regulations do not require transfers to Division I-AA programs to redshirt their first year.

All right, it's nice to get that out of the way, right?

Alex Mortensen got what he wanted, and while no coach likes to see a player go early, Nutt had an extra scholarship to give.

This may have been best for Arkansas. Alex Mortensen never looked to be half the quarterback he was talked up to be. His throwing arm strength was questionable, and he was drastically undersized.

Even if he were a Razorback for four years, he had the possibility of just serving as a perennial bench warmer - of course, barring a major growth spurt or surge in arm strength.

Well, back to that whole thing about getting the issue out of the way...

It was reported Jan. 14 that Alex Mortensen changed his mind about transferring, and wanted instead to return to the Razorbacks.

"Alex just didn't understand how tough it was going to be [to leave Arkansas] until he made that decision," Chris Mortensen told The Morning News.

Nutt welcomed him back, accepted his apologies and said he understood his quarterback's struggles.

Reportedly, Alex Mortensen's decision came as a result of his loyalty to Arkansas and his teammates.

Still, it makes one wonder. Did he see something he didn't like at Georgia Southern and realize he made the wrong decision? Did he have a genuine change of heart? Was he possibly provoked one way or another by the hiring of Gus Malzahn or the Mitch Mustain saga?

Either way, and I hope it was a genuine change of heart, Alex Mortensen isn't the only one to blame.

In fact he may not be the one to blame at all. If you were a reserve quarterback on a team laden with quarterback troubles, wouldn't you grow frustrated if you didn't get to play?

The Razorbacks' quarterback situation last season was, to say the least, disastrous. Johnson didn't perform as well as he, his coaches or Razorback fans would have wanted him. And instead of trying another quarterback as a starter - be it Mortensen, Dick or Barthel, regardless of their brief, past performances - Johnson remained the starter. As a result, he continued to struggle and would-be wins were instead devastating defeats.

Football scholarship players are a little like swing voters in elections. You can't just hit them once and assume they're going to follow the crowd the rest of the way. You've got to be consistent. This is an area where the Razorback coaching staff failed.

Perhaps this all happened at the right time. After (hopefully) learning from its mistakes, Arkansas wouldn't possibly let anything remotely close to that happen to the new pride of the program - Mustain.

But if it does - and it won't take much, especially with a hot commodity like him - don't be surprised if you experience a big dose of Razorback dejà vu.

(C) 2006 Arkansas Traveler via CSTV U-WIRE

Football Home