Mustain's New Role -- As A Backup

FAYETTEVILLE -- Mitch Mustain didn't seem rattled by the TV cameras or the approximately dozen reporters who crowded around him Tuesday evening.

He was polite, answering every question and cracking a smile at times. He even made a subtle joke when his 8-0 record as Arkansas' starting quarterback was brought up.

"I don't know if I'd count the last one," Mustain said. "But I'd definitely take the other ones."

Mustain has never had a problem with standing in the pocket and dealing with pressure, but the difference Tuesday was that he had to face dozens of questions being thrown at him about his recent demotion.

Being a backup is a new situation for the former Springdale High star.

"I think it's humbling, not necessarily from the wins perspective," Mustain said, referring to his unbeaten record in games he's started this season. "It's something that I've had a lot of help on, I think that's been obvious.

"(But) it's humbling just from the perspective that it gives me a chance to kind of reflect a little bit on what's gone on and hopefully come back a little stronger."

Mustain can't recall ever being benched for an extended period of time, but he'll be on the sidelines when No. 11 Arkansas hosts No. 13 Tennessee at 6 p.m. Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt decided Sunday to name Casey Dick as the starting quarterback after watching the sophomore lead the team to a critical 26-20 win at South Carolina the previous night.

Mustain started the game, but he was pulled after throwing an interception on his only pass attempt. It was his eighth interception of the season, and it came on Arkansas' third offensive play.

Mustain admits he was "a little surprised" by the quick hook, but after watching the way Dick performed, the freshman wasn't shocked when he was told that he would no longer be the starter.

He figured it was coming.

"I'm not down on Mitch; I don't want him to be down. He's too good a quarterback," Nutt said. "He's going to be a great one. He'll be one of the best in the country.

"He's already broken one record as a true freshman (to win his first eight starts), and he'll break some more."

The decision to bench Mustain has sparked a debate among Arkansas fans, some of whom disagree with changing quarterbacks when the Razorbacks (8-1, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) have won eight straight games and are in sole possession of first place in the SEC West.

"(Mustain and Dick are) both team players, they're both outstanding quarterbacks and just right now it's Casey's time," said Arkansas offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who was Mustain's coach at Springdale High.

Mustain didn't show any signs during Tuesday's practice that he was still reeling from the demotion. He warmed up by tossing passes back and forth with Dick, and the freshman said all the right things while speaking with reporters afterward.

"He's same ole Mitch. Mitch is one of those guys that he doesn't really wear his emotions on his sleeve," said Arkansas wide receiver Damian Williams, who was one of Mustain's primary targets at Springdale High.

"So if he's mad, he's mad. If he's happy, he's happy. But you're probably not going to know either way unless you really just ask him about it. It's just one of those things you kind of don't talk about."

Nutt has told Mustain to hang in there and stay focused since he's only a play away from being back in the lineup at quarterback. But in the meantime, the freshman took around 40 percent of the snaps as the backup in Tuesday's practice.

Mustain admits he was a little "bummed" by Nutt's decision to start Dick, but he said he'll be supportive on the sideline. That's how Dick was for him.

"We're here to win. He's going to be the guy to do it, whether I like it or not," Mustain said of Dick. "So it wouldn't do me any good to sit back and wish him bad.

"I hope he does a good job, and I hope we keep on winning."

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