Option Play: Dick To Start At QB

FAYETTEVILLE -- He hasn't started a game, hasn't played a down and, by his own recollection, has only been interviewed once since arriving on campus.

But quarterback Casey Dick now stands at the center of Arkansas' football world.

The true freshman from Allen, Texas was surrounded by television cameras, tape recorders and members of the media as he was introduced as Arkansas' new starting quarterback in the Broyles Center on Monday afternoon. He ran the scout-team offense most of the season, but will replace sophomore Robert Johnson on Saturday against South Carolina and is in charge of energizing an offense that is last in the Southeastern Conference in passing (133 yards).

That's not going to be an easy task. But Dick said he's ready for the opportunity.

"It's a big step," said Dick, who was fourth on the depth chart behind Johnson, redshirt freshman Alex Mortensen and true freshman Cole Barthel this season. "But it's what you wait for your whole life. To come out here and play college football and show people what skills you have and the differences you can make for the team."

Dick was an afterthought a few weeks ago, but vaulted into consideration after Arkansas' 34-17 loss at Auburn. Coach Houston Nutt openly considered a change at quarterback after Johnson's poor outing and pulled Dick from the scout team.

He was one of four quarterbacks given a chance to win the starting job before the Georgia game, but Nutt decided on Johnson because of the sophomore's ability to execute the game plan. Johnson completed 11 of 19 passes for 116 yards, lost a fumble and threw an interception during the 23-20 loss.

Nutt said the Razorbacks didn't make an "overnight decision" to start Dick and have been impressed with his performances in practice and scrimmages.

"The thing that he's done, really since two-a-days, especially in the passing game with his arm, he really has good instincts," Nutt said. "He's done a very good job against our defense throughout the year. We put him in some two-minute, we put him in some pass skels and some different situations with blitzes and he's handled things very, very well. I just want him to continue that and keep going and improving.

"We're not asking the quarterback to be Superman every play, just stay away from the bad play."

Arkansas is hoping he'll give the offense, which is first in the SEC in rushing (256.6), a shot in the arm. Defensive tackle Keith Jackson said he was impressed by the true freshman's work with the scout-team offense.

"Casey Dick used to kill us every day on scout team," Jackson said. "He used to throw that ball and you used to hear the ball hit the pads of the receivers every time real loud, like a 'Thump.' I think he can get the job done. He's just got to get some snaps under his belt and everything is going to turn out great for Casey Dick."

Nutt, who didn't announce a starting quarterback before the Georgia game, said Dick won the job in practice last week. He named a starter before the South Carolina game because "there's no secrets. Things do get out."

He also wanted to see how his quarterback handled the new role in practice.

"I think he needed to get this out," Nutt said. "I want to see how he responds now (today) in practice. Like I said, I don't think it was going to be any secret. You're going to see him getting more reps and we had an open date and thought things through. We just felt like let's put it out on the table and get him ready to play."

Dick found out he was the starter on Sunday afternoon during a quarterbacks meeting with position coach Roy Wittke. He hasn't played this season, but doesn't mind losing his redshirt for a chance to play the final four games.

"I was comfortable with it," Dick said. "I came to Arkansas to play quarterback so I knew whenever I got my opportunity, I would take advantage of it and see what I could do for the team. We're going to see if we can add a new spark and get something going as far as running the ball, see if we can change it up a little bit, see if we can add a little more to the passing game and different situations like that."

Dick will be the first Arkansas true freshman to start at quarterback since Zak Clark in 2000. Clark completed 14 of 29 passes for 164 yards with 2 interceptions during a 38-24 loss. It also was the eighth game of the season.

Six true freshmen quarterbacks have started games in school history.

"He's going to have butterflies, no question about it," Nutt said. "He's going to have bright eyes when he first runs through that 'A' knowing that he's going to take his first snap on the collegiate level. That'll be different. We all know that.

"He's got to use his teammates because it takes everybody, the defense, special teams, offense, as you know, to win a ball game."

The good news, Nutt said, is that the Razorbacks still will lean on their ground game, which is led by true freshman tailback Darren McFadden. But he said the Hogs will be able to add a few new wrinkles to the offense to suit Dick's strengths.

Dick, who completed 133 of 248 passes for 1,942 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior at Allen High last season, intends to make the most of the opportunity.

"It's certainly something you have to take advantage of," Dick said. "Just try to be yourself, don't try to be someone you aren't and just go out there and do the things you know you can do well."

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