Dick named starter for Arkansas

Updated: November 6, 2006, 2:06 AM ET
Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Just like last year, Casey Dick is taking over as Arkansas' starting quarterback late in the season.

But this time, the games are a little more meaningful.

Dick was named the new starter Sunday, a day after throwing for 228 yards and a touchdown in relief of Mitch Mustain in No. 11 Arkansas' 26-20 win over the Gamecocks. The Razorbacks host No. 13 Tennessee on Saturday.

The Volunteers' quarterback situation is also uncertain. Erik Ainge has had ankle problems and was replaced by Jonathan Crompton in last weekend's 28-24 loss to LSU.

Dick started the last four games of 2005 as a freshman, going 2-2 as Arkansas finished a 4-7 season. He was slowed by back problems at the start of this season.

Robert Johnson started Arkansas' opener, a 50-14 loss to Southern California. Mustain -- one of the nation's most touted freshmen -- has started every game since, and the Razorbacks have won all eight to set up an exciting finish to the season.

But Mustain has shown his inexperience at times. He threw two early interceptions in a win over Louisiana-Monroe two weeks ago, and his first pass was picked off against the Gamecocks. He was pulled after that first series against South Carolina, and Dick played well enough to stay in the rest of the game.

"It's one word; it's experience," Nutt said Sunday. "That's all it is. Both these guys will continue to get reps. We will go with Casey as a starter (against Tennessee) but we need both of them."

Dick's 228 yards passing were the most by a Razorback since 2004. His lone touchdown pass -- a 50-yarder to Marcus Monk in the final seconds of the first half -- came on a lucky deflection, but Dick was also unlucky on his only interception. A pass to Monk at the South Carolina goalline was deflected and then intercepted on a great play by the Gamecocks' Carlos Thomas.

Dick completed two straight passes on third-and-long late in the fourth quarter, enabling the Razorbacks to run out the clock.

"They were crowding us and you have to be accurate," Nutt said. "You have to be able to catch the blitz and be able to take a shot. Casey made great decisions with the ball and that's what experience does under pressure in a hostile environment. ... I knew with the way that he was practicing the last few weeks that he has been staying ... tuned and focused and that hasn't been easy."

Mustain was a high school star in Springdale, Ark. He has had his moments this season, such as a 224-yard, three-touchdown day at Vanderbilt, but Nutt said his inexperience was a concern with Arkansas in the hunt for a possible Southeastern Conference title.

"When November hit and things started moving a bit faster I just felt it was time for Casey," Nutt said.

Johnson was moved to wide receiver after being replaced at quarterback. That obviously won't happen with Mustain, who Nutt says needs to be ready if called on.

"He took it the way I expected him to take it. No one likes to be pulled," Nutt said. "It hurts me to pull but I have been in the situation as a player. No one is going to be more supportive to Mitch Mustain then I am. I think he is a big-time quarterback. ... He's a play away. I have a quick trigger.

"I saw Robert Johnson and I felt for him. But Robert has accepted his role and he has done some good things for us. I expect Mitch to do the same."

Nutt was the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Arkansas -- back in 1976 -- and he's started two there in his last two seasons as coach. Now, approaching one of the biggest games of his coaching career, Nutt wants a more experienced signal-caller.

"I am proud of Casey for hanging in there. He has had a tough road to take," Nutt said. "But he has been very supportive (of Mustain) and now I expect the same from Mitch. It's all about team. It's about winning."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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