Dick Engineers First SEC Win

FAYETTEVILLE -- Six quarters into his college career, true freshman Casey Dick finally found his groove during Arkansas' 28-17 comeback win at Ole Miss on Saturday.

A struggling Razorbacks' running game and a 14-7 halftime deficit forced Dick to test his arm strength against a stingy defense which surrendered just 1.9 yards per play in the first half. Arkansas coach Houston Nutt told the team at halftime it was the "worst exhibition" of offense he had ever seen.

However, it was after the speech when Nutt and his staff sat Dick down for some much-needed advice. It helped turn things around in the second half and give the Hogs their first Southeastern Conference win.

"We told him that we're going to have to throw the ball and you're not going to have much time," said Nutt, whose team snapped a three-game losing streak to improve to 3-6 overall and 1-5 in the SEC. "You're going to have to step up, use quick short steps, step up in the pocket that you have and get rid of that football."

By staying calm, cool and even stepping up into the pocket a few times, Dick began firing strike after strike to resuscitate an anemic offense. He didn't miss a beat -- or a receiver -- while completing his final 12 passes to finish 17 of 24 for 175 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Seeing the SEC's top rushing team passing frequently took Ole Miss players off guard. They didn't anticipate much air time from the league's worst passing offense.

"We did stop the run, but we couldn't stop the pass," said Ole Miss linebacker Patrick Willis. "We did not expect them to be able to throw on our defense."

That defense crowded the line with eight and nine defenders to hold Arkansas to 89 yards on the ground, its lowest rushing total since the last trip to Oxford, Miss. In 2003, the Hogs rushed for 82 yards in a 19-7 loss at Ole Miss.

All the attention up front pitted receivers Marcus Monk and Cedric Washington against man coverage. Peyton Hillis and Darren McFadden also caught passes out of the backfield. Hillis wasn't used as much on the screen passes which have been successful lately since the Rebels used a "spy" to keep the screens in check.

It forced Dick to look to deeper routes and different weapons.

"That's what you want. You want balance," Nutt said. "You want to be able to keep them off balance by throwing, mixing it up and moving the ball without a mistake."

When Nutt says balance, he's not necessarily referring to the number of passes versus the number of rushes. He means getting more players involved instead of simply relying on the running of true freshmen Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.

Nutt said the second half displayed the offense he envisioned with the present personnel this season. He thought it would work when Robert Johnson was the quarterback through the first seven games, but things never clicked consistently.

But now, Dick's efficient passing had Nutt sounding encouraged for the first time in weeks.

"I think you saw what it does for the team," Nutt said. "It's contagious when things are happening now and everybody is making a play."

The second half performance is what the coaches were hoping for when Dick was promoted from scout team to starter two games ago. His accuracy and arm strength is something players have been raving about after practices for most of the season.

"What I love is where the ball is thrown. The ball is throw away from the defender most of the time," Nutt said. "And you would see that when he on the scout team. He threw a lot of good balls. When you see him go against our first team defense and (defensive coordinator Reggie) Herring says, ‘Repeat this play.' They know it's coming, but he stills throws it into a place where the receiver can get it.

"That's one of the traits of a good, good quarterback. Hopefully, we keep building on that."

Nutt understood he might take some heat for not starting Dick sooner, especially if he was successful. It first crossed Nutt's mind prior to the Louisiana-Monroe game on Oct. 8, but he continued seeing promise in Johnson's progress.

"Hindsight's always 20-20," Nutt said. "But I really though that Robert Johnson was coming along. Again, this was his first time to play, but for whatever reason, things weren't going our way. Sometimes, you've got to make a hard decision. Deep down inside, I feel like we made the right decision.

"We just didn't think (Dick) was ready. He's still learning on the run."

A perfect example came in the first quarter of Saturday's game when Dick cost the Hogs a timeout. Not aware the play clock was ticking down after an Ole Miss kickoff, Dick waited patiently since the Rebels' defense hadn't lined up on the ball.

Nutt told Dick to call the play on the sidelines, go onto the field and run it right away without huddling.

"I'm over there screaming at the top of my lungs, ‘Go! Go! The clock's running! Go!," said Nutt, who called a timeout just before being slapped with a delay of game penalty. "Well, how come you didn't look at the 25-second clock? How come you didn't maybe look at the official with the white hat and see what he's doing? He's sitting there waiting on a play. You cost us a timeout.

"That's just one more thing to me that's an example of ‘Hey, I hadn't done it before.'"

There were other times when Dick looked more panicked than promising in the first half. But coaches dissecting what the Rebels were doing defensively helped Dick keep his composure. The last two quarters, Nutt said he "really grew" as a college quarterback. He gained confidence in his receivers, in his teammates and, most importantly, in himself.

Dick was tenacious in handling the pressure of not only his first road start, but from an Ole Miss team which starts four senior defensive linemen. He was sacked twice and often pummeled after releasing passes.

"It's easy to start flinching when you get hit," Nutt said. "Then, you start worrying where you're going to get hit from and then you don't have the concentration and the focus to put the ball where you need to put the ball and to be very accurate.

"So that shows you how tough he is. Mental toughness and physically."

The Hogs were 8 of 8 on third down conversions in the second half. In addition, 12 of their final 14 first downs were pass plays.

Not bad for a guy who less than a year ago still was running a high school offense in Allen, Texas. Nutt hopes its a sign of things to come.

"He's only going to get better from it," Nutt said. "When a quarterback comes from behind and executes, it's another big lift for confidence."

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