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Freshman corner tackles tough task

Tevin Mitchel made a rookie mistake that helped Texas A&M take a 14-point lead against Arkansas on Saturday, but after that, he looked more like an SEC All-Freshman Team player.

Cornerback Tevin Mitchel (right) finished with a team-high 13 tackles Saturday against Texas A&M and might be called on to start this week against Auburn.

Mitchel, a true freshman cornerback called into action because of an injury, shook off a first-half late hit penalty and finished with a team-high 13 tackles and a fumble recovery in the Razorbacks’ 42-38 victory at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

“Probably the only mistake he made was when he got the late hit penalty when the guy slipped down on the ground,” Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino said Monday. “So he played hard, he tackled well, he made some huge plays on special teams. He got them tackled inside the 20-yard line I think three times on special teams, so he is a very good football player for us.”

One who could end up starting Saturday when No. 10 Arkansas (4-1, 0-1 SEC) takes on No. 15 Auburn (4-1, 2-0) at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. Mitchel is listed at the second-team boundary cornerback, behind junior Darius Winston, but Winston suffered what appeared to be an injury to his right knee in the first quarter against Texas A&M and did not return to the game.

Winston’s status for Saturday was not made public Monday when Petrino met with the media.

When Mitchel came in for Winston on Saturday, he was immediately charged with the task of defending one of the best receivers in the country in Jeff Fuller.

Fuller, a 6-4, 220-pound senior, finished the game with nine catches for 82 yards. He had six for 64 yards after the 6-0, 175-pound Mitchel replaced Winston.

“Tevin’s a very, very talented young man. Very tough physically and mentally,” Petrino said. “I thought he did a nice job really playing a great receiver. That guy’s a good player. It seems like we’ve been playing against him forever and Tevin did a good job with his technique. He was very focused and had good concentration.”

Except for one play in the second quarter.

On a second-and-7 play from the Texas A&M 19, Aggies running back Christine Michael fell for a 7-yard loss, but Mitchel came flying in after Michael went down and hit him in the back. Mitchel said he never heard the whistle.

Instead of a third-and-13, the Aggies got a first down, and five plays later, they went ahead 28-14 on Michael’s 29-yard run.

“I wasn’t really worried about it,” Mitchel said of the penalty. “I know I made a mistake. You learn from mistakes, and I just shook it off and just kept looking forward.”

And kept making tackles on defense and special teams, and kept doing a nice job in pass coverage.

Then late in the third quarter on first-and-10 play from the Arkansas 47, Michael carried it four yards before defensive tackle Zach Stadther reached in from behind and knocked the ball loose. Mitchel had dropped back in pass coverage and had just turned around when the ball came flying toward him.

He said Monday that he wasn’t sure what happened on the play, but just found the ball in his hands.

Mitchel immediately tried to take off down the sideline, but Michael quickly wrapped him up for a 1-yard return.

“I guess I was in the right place at the right time. I didn’t see it coming, but it was a great feeling to have that fumble recovery,” Mitchel said.

It also had to be a great feeling to have the performance that he had at Cowboys Stadium, which is about 10 miles from his home in Mansfield.

Mitchel, who had been to some high school games at the stadium and had seen one Cowboys game there, had family members and friends in attendance Saturday. They got to see a lot more of him on the field than they probably thought, and he said they told him afterward that he played well and looked fast and confident.

“It was kind of shocking that I was thrown out there so early in the game,” said Mitchel, who's still trying to add weight and has gained about six pounds since reporting at 169 in June. “I went out there with confidence and told myself that I have to step up and do my job.

”I was told to always play physical and fast and that’s what I did. I stepped up and did what I had to do.”

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