Springdale was so good, Mustain barely played in the second half of the majority of the Bulldogs' games. (Malzahn made it a habit to yank his starters up 35 points.) He still threw for 3,817 yards and 45 touchdowns, leading his team to a 15-0 record. "You put Mitch in the shotgun and it doesn't get much better than that," Malzahn said.
Houston Nutt, rumored to be on the hot seat at the University of Arkansas after two consecutive losing seasons, felt he couldn't let Mustain leave the state to sign with another program, so he decided to do something unprecedented: He hired Malzahn to be his offensive coordinator. Mustain, who had been waffling between Arkansas and Notre Dame, decided to go with Malzahn and become a Razorback. Williams, Cleveland and Norman all followed suit. "I'm going to let Gus go," Nutt told reporters after the hire. "I'm going to turn him loose."
Mustain became the starter in the second game of his freshman season, and Arkansas, which went 4-7 in 2005, went 10-4 with Malzahn calling the plays.
"A lot of people tend to mock him for starting in high school," Mustain said. "Well, what makes him an extraordinary coach is his ability to adapt his offense to the guys he has. We see it all the time, a coach gets hired and he needs two or three years to get 'his guys' in there to fit into his system. Coach Malzahn has always been able to figure out what works best with the guys he has, what puts them in the best position, and then win games with them." Malzahn won't say much these days about his time in Fayetteville, other than he's thankful Nutt gave him the opportunity to coach at the college level. He learned a lot, he admits, but the closest he'll come to addressing that infamous season is that coaching in the SEC was far more complicated than just the Xs and Os. "You learn how to deal with people, how to deal with pressure, how to deal with success," he said.
On the surface, it was a banner year for the Razorbacks. At one point, they won seven consecutive games over ranked opponents. But internally it was mess. Nutt was willing to install some of Malzahn's offense, Mustain said, but not all of it. The disparity in time of possession was just too much for his old-school sensibilities to bear. The game plan, with multiple cooks in the kitchen, was often confusing. Nutt wanted to pound the ball with future NFL running backs Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis. Malzahn wanted to use the trio's athleticism in different ways, including the passing game and the Wildcat. Despite an 8-0 record as a starter, Nutt benched Mustain late in the year after the precocious quarterback threw an interception, and the relationship between quarterback and head coach became toxic. "They couldn't or wouldn't reconcile what we were doing," Mustain said. "It just became a mess, and there were a lot of politics outside the practice facility that tore it apart."