By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
Arkansas News Bureau
FAYETTEVILLE — Quarterback Ryan Mallett helped Arkansas avoid disaster last Saturday, turning a near collapse in the fourth quarter into a benchmark moment by running a two-minute drill to perfection.
The face of Arkansas’ football program couldn’t avoid something else on Monday, though. A quiz.
Mallett didn’t name the class, but apologized for being 10 minutes late to an interview session.
“I needed to get that done first,” Mallett said.
Such is life for the junior, who was college football’s biggest star last week after completing 21 of 33 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns in Arkansas’ 31-24 win at Georgia. The performance didn’t help him get out of the quiz, but the spotlight on Mallett is shining brighter this week as the Razorbacks prepare to play No. 1 Alabama.
Mallett was named the Walter Camp player of the week on Sunday, the Southeastern Conference player of the week on Monday morning, then the Davey O’Brien quarterback of the week hours later. His performance has him at or near the top of weekly Heisman Trophy polls. And this week’s interview request demand for Mallett was so great, Arkansas had to set up a teleconference Monday to meet them all.
Forty members of the media from 13 states participated in the call, according to Arkansas. It included outlets in New York City and Los Angeles.
What did Mallett tell them? The heaping helping of attention isn’t going to distract him this week.
“I’m not worried about that,” Mallett said when asked specifically about being in the Heisman Trophy discussion after three games. “I play Alabama on Saturday and that’s what I’m getting ready for.”
Arkansas enjoyed what it saw in Mallett’s performance last Saturday, though.
He was not at his best on the road last season and, despite going 5-for-13 in the fourth quarter before the game-winning drive Saturday, showed some of the struggles may be in the past.
Mallett’s three touchdown passes Saturday came after he tossed four in Arkansas’ four road trips last season.
“I thought he really stuck in there and played well,” Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said.
“We got off to a fast start and he completed a lot of balls. His progression reads were very, very good. He made a lot of big plays. One of the reason we won the game is we made a lot of big plays and didn’t turn the ball over. He played a big part in both of those.
“Then, obviously, when you win a game with a two-minute drive and go 3-for-3, it’s a great job.”
Mallett believes his improved ability to stay even-keeled helped Saturday. Last year, he would get too high or too low after good and bad plays, but stayed calm and cool throughout the Georgia win.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday there is also growth in Mallett’s knowledge of Arkansas’ plans.
“I think he’s more comfortable in what he’s doing and what he’s expected to do, not that he wasn’t a very good player last year, he certainly was,” Saban said.
“I think Bobby does a great job with him in terms of game plan, schemes and getting him in the right things so this will be a real challenge. ...”
Mallett’s game-winning performance was featured on college football highlight shows all weekend. It was called his “Heisman moment” in columns and stories.
But Mallett shrugged off the outing, saying he was more concerned about what it meant to the Razorbacks because it set up a top 10 matchup Saturday.
“Just to get a win in the SEC on the road is big-time,” said Mallett, whose self-proclaimed goal was to win championships at Arkansas. “Especially going into Alabama at home. We want to carry that momentum into this game and that’s what we did.”
Another strong afternoon from Mallett — and an Arkansas win against the Tide — will only heighten the attention on the quarterback.
It’s a distraction Mallett said he’ll certainly welcome, though, as his popularity grows nationally.
“I came to the University of Arkansas to win football games,” Mallett said in response to a question about the impact a win could have on his pro career.
“That’s how I look at it. I want to win this one for the state and for the rest of my team.”