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 resumés; 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.


Jared Dockery 11/25/06, 11:07 AM  

Excellent post, Luke. I absolutely agree with you that Mustain should be the starter come the Florida game. Here are a couple of extra little facts which you might find interesting.

In further reply to the argument that Dick supposedly had more experience at the time he replaced Mustain: If my math is correct, Mustain actually had 122 pass career pass attempts at that moment, compared to 120 for Dick (who threw the ball 99 times in 2005, and 21 times in 2006 prior to the South Carolina games).

In further defense of your argument that Dick should be the backup and not the starter, it is interesting to notice how much better Dick has played as a backup than as a starter this season:
• As a backup (including the SC game), Dick completed 25 of 40 passes (63 percent) for 450 yards (11.3 yards per attempt), with 4 touchdowns and 1 interception.
• As a starter (Tenn, Miss. St., LSU), Dick completed just 21 of 49 passes (43 percent) for 295 yards (6.0 yards per attempt), with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.

One of my major problems with Houston Nutt's coaching philosophy is that he usually plays his starting quarterback exclusively and gives few or no snaps to his backup. Under any circumstances this is short-sighted, since you never know when your starter is going to get hurt.

But under our particular set of circumstances (with two young quarterbacks who neither one is head-and-shoulders better than the other) it is beyond short-sighted not to play the backup. At this point in their careers, a hot Mitch Mustain is going to be better than an average Casey Dick (let alone a cold Casey Dick), and vice versa. But how on earth are you going to find out which one is hotter on that particular day if you don't give both of them some snaps each game?

Bob Walker 11/28/06, 5:17 PM  

Nice post, Luke. I've been looking forward to seeing your research since Jared told me about it on the phone as the clock ran out on the Hogs' hopes Friday. I want you to know that, at the beginning of the fourth-quarter, our Ben yelled into the television: "Houston, it's time to bring in Mustain!"

TWD 1/17/07, 10:33 AM  

Time for an update on this one. The only constant is change.

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