Mallett, Nutt to cross paths again in SEC clash

When Ryan Mallett was growing up, he’d go to Houston Nutt’s football camps and no matter who was on his team, the youngster always seemed to win.

Now Mallett is the quarterback at Arkansas, and his determined attitude hasn’t gone away – even as he prepares to face Nutt and Mississippi this weekend.

“I go back with coach Nutt a long ways, but he knows I’m like him. We’re both competitive,” Mallett said. “So on Saturday it’s going to be no holds barred. Let’s go.”

Mallett went to high school in Texarkana, Texas, just across the Arkansas state line. He was a Razorbacks’ fan growing up, but Arkansas appeared set at quarterback when Mallett was a senior in high school. It was no big surprise when he signed with Michigan.

After a season with the Wolverines, Mallett transferred to Arkansas. By then, Bobby Petrino was the Razorbacks’ coach. Nutt had left to take over at Ole Miss, so his former camper was now a Southeastern Conference rival.

Since Mallett had to sit out last season, this will be his first matchup against Nutt. He comes into this weekend throwing for an SEC-best 274 yards per game.

“Mallett is probably playing as well as anyone in the league right now,” Nutt said. “He can really throw it, probably better than (Sam) Bradford and (Colt) McCoy as far as just throwing the ball. He’s so accurate and he has some good receivers that we signed when we were there. We know how good those players are.”

Arkansas had recruited Mallett, but in 2006 the Razorbacks signed Mitch Mustain, one of the nation’s top quarterback prospects. Mallett signed with Michigan in 2007.

Mustain transferred after one season, and Nutt never really regained the support of the Arkansas fan base. Nutt left the Razorbacks after the 2007 regular season and took over at Ole Miss. Less than two months later, Petrino was at Arkansas and Mallett was a Razorback.

Nutt says the move wasn’t a surprise.

“He tried to talk to me a lot while he was at Michigan, and I talked to (Michigan coach Lloyd) Carr and let him know the situation. He’s just a good person, good quarterback, excellent football player. He was just unhappy at the time,” Nutt said. “There’s no doubt that he was going to transfer and he was ready to get back to Arkansas.”

Mallett has said Carr’s retirement – announced just before Nutt left Arkansas – was what led him to transfer. His father, Jim Mallett, questioned the idea that the quarterback wanted to leave Michigan all along.

“That’s the first I’ve heard of that,” Jim Mallett said.

The Razorbacks are eager to take out their frustrations after nearly upsetting Florida last weekend. Mallett gave Arkansas a 20-13 lead in that game in the fourth quarter with a spectacular 75-yard touchdown pass to Greg Childs. Facing third-and-17, Mallett stepped up in the pocket and left his feet while throwing deep to Childs, who caught the ball near the Florida 35 and then cut diagonally across the field before reaching the goal line.

It would have gone down as one of Arkansas’ greatest plays if the Gators hadn’t rallied for a 23-20 win. Mallett finished 12 of 27 for 224 yards and has been hard on himself ever since.

“We just couldn’t pull it out,” he said. “I don’t feel like I played very well – kept us in it at the end, but I could have made some plays in the first half to give my team a better chance to win.”

Nutt, meanwhile, is hoping for a late surge that would enable his Rebels to come close to some of their preseason expectations. Ole Miss was ranked No. 4 in the country before a September loss to South Carolina. The Rebels later lost to Alabama and are now unranked.

It was a win at Arkansas last year that started Ole Miss’ six-game winning streak to end the season. That was different, though. The Razorbacks didn’t have Mallett.

“He can throw every throw,” Nutt said. “It doesn’t matter where you are on the field. He can throw from sideline to sideline. He throws the deep ball, he can throw the touch ball and then that always helps your running game. … Everybody knows that if you’ve got the quarterback handling the ball each play that can make things happen, you’re going to be able to put points on the board.”