It's (Past) Time to Make a Change

From the very beginning of the Razorbacks’ surprisingly good season, I’ve been a big Mitch Mustain fan. Sometimes when he plays, he looks like an 18 year old kid (which he is) but every now and then you see the flashes of brilliance that made him the top high school quarterback in the nation last year and the biggest recruit Arkansas has landed in a long time.

Despite having a record of 7-0 as a starter, Mustain was inconsistent, and after a bad game against Louisiana-Monroe, was pulled after throwing an INT on his first passing attempt against South Carolina.

Casey Dick, who went 2-2 as a freshman starter at the end of last season, came in to replace Mustain, and had a big game, throwing for 228 yards and a touchdown, as Arkansas held on to win the game. Dick played well, and Mustain had been struggling, but I thought pulling Mustain, undefeated as a starter, after one pass (albeit an INT), was possibly premature.

Although, Arkansas won the next two games under Dick, who played well against Tennessee and poorly against Mississippi St, they lost to LSU today, thanks in no small part to an absolutely inept performance by Dick. Dick started bad and got worse as the game went on, but was left in for the entire game, despite proving time after time a complete inability to throw to his intended receiver. For the game, Dick was 3-17 for 29 yards, 1 TD (on a remarkable catch and run by Marcus Monk) and one back-breaking INT.

When you compare the two quarterbacks, it seems clear to me that it’s time to go back to Mustain:

1. Experience: This has always been one of the main reasons given as to why Dick replaced Mustain as a starter. What kind of experience are we talking about here? Most college games watched? Because if we're talking about starts, Mustain actually has more, and certainly had more at the time when he was pulled for Dick. Besides, most of Dick’s starts were last season, and while they were all against SEC opponents, they weren’t exactly in pressure situations, as Arkansas was 2-5 when Dick took over the helm, with no real expectations for the end of the season.

That being said, Dick has had more practice reps than Mustain, and since he did play last year, is more familiar with the Arkansas offense than is Mustain.

Even if Dick was much more experienced than Mustain (which he really isn’t), in some ways this is a stupid argument. After all, the older guy will always have more experience until the younger guy actually gets to play.

2. Performance: As a starter, Mustain is 8-0. Dick is 4-3. Even if you take away the South Carolina game (which is fair; Mustain started but Dick was the one who helped win the game), Mustain is 7-0 and Dick is 5-3 (3-1 this season).

Their season statistics are fairly similar. Both are completing just over 50% of their passes (Dick has completed 51.7%, Mustain 52.5%). Neither is amassing a great deal of yardage: Dick is averaging 8.37 yards per pass attempt while Mustain is at 6.99. Dick has a better ratio of touchdowns to interceptions (he has 8 TDs and 3 INTs, Mustain has 10 and 8), but none of Mustain's picks on the season was as bad as the one thrown by Dick today.

When at their best, the two are similar, though Mustain is a little better. In the Hogs’ SEC opener on the road at Vanderbilt, Mustain earned National Freshman of the Week Honors by completing 13 of 20 passes for 224 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 21-19 victory over the Commodores. In Dick's breakout game in the 26-20 victory over South Carolina, he completed 11 of 19 passes for 228 yards and a touchdown. Both of these were big SEC road victories for the Razorbacks, but Mustain's performance was really the more impressive of the two, as Heisman candidate Darren McFadden ran for 219 yards in Dick's big game against the Gamecocks, but he had one of his worst games of the season against Vandy, running for just 71 yards on 19 carries. This means that Mustain had his biggest game at a time when he needed to, while Arkansas’ top player was struggling.

Both have big wins on their season resum├ęs; Mustain played solidly, running the team well in a 27-10 upset at #2 ranked Auburn, and Dick had a good performance in a 31-14 trouncing of Tennessee.

Both Mustain and Dick have been inconsistent, and when they’ve been bad, they’ve been really bad. Against Alabama, Mustain was 7-22 for 97 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions. Dick’s worst game was today against LSU, when he was 3-17 for 29 yards and one touchdown and one interception. Of course the big difference here is that during his worst game, Mustain still played his best when the game was on the line, giving the Hogs the win with a touchdown pass on 4th down in double OT. On the other hand, Dick eliminated any chance of winning that Arkansas had against LSU by throwing four consecutive incomplete passes to end the game.

It seems that Mustain has performed better over the course of the season, and this is even more impressive when you realize that he is running an offense which is completely different from the no huddle, pass-oriented offense he ran last year at Springdale High School. On the other hand, Dick is running a very similar offense to what he ran last year; why isn't his “experience” paying off?

3. Potential: This area goes to Mustain, pretty much hands-down. Picked by some publications as last year’s High School Player of the Year, for Mustain, the sky is the limit. Dick is a solid back-up quarterback, and has done some good things for Arkansas over the last two seasons, but anyone who thinks that he is more of a talent than Mustain in the long term is just plain nuts.

4. Intangibles: I saved this area for last, because I think it is the most important. When it comes down to it, Mustain is simply a winner. Since he was in 8th grade, Mustain has a record of 60-2 as a starter. 60-2. He is a guy who finds a way to win, and as I mentioned before, even in his worst game of the season when he couldn’t complete a pass to anyone, he throws the big touchdown in OT to win the game.

Dick has shown himself to be a gritty player and really helped out Arkansas last year by giving up a year of eligibility and taking the helm from an overwhelmed Robert Johnson, but as a starter, he has lost more games over the last 13 months than Mustain has since he was 13 years old.

Mustain should have replaced Dick during the 3rd quarter today; Dick certainly was given more leeway than Mustain ever got. Arkansas deserved to lose today, because Casey Dick couldn’t run the offense, and Houston Nutt refused to do anything about it. Houston, it's (past) time to make a change.

The Doc File © 2006-2012 by Luke Dockery

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