State of the Hogs: Game Slows Down

Hawgs Illustrated publisher Clay Henry takes a lot at the development of quarterback Casey Dick as bowl practices take Arkansas towards a matchup with Missouri.

The most important thing that college quarterbacks do takes place from the time they leave the huddle and they take the snap. Most of what we see from the stands in that regard has to do with making hand motions or just plain getting the snap off before the 25-second clock expires.

That really isn't it, though. Point blank, there is more to it than what meets the naked eye.

It's the very thing that makes Chase Daniel, the junior quarterback at Missouri, one of the nation's best. I listened as television commentators raved during Mizzou's game with Kansas late in the season about Daniel actually hoping for blitzes so he could change plays at the line of scrimmage in search for big gainers.

Changing plays, altering the blocking schemes and picking up the subtle changes in a defense are the key part of playing quarterback in college. It was the missing link last year when Arkansas coaches limited the checks available to quarterbacks Casey Dick and Mitch Mustain, both with almost no college experience.

Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and quarterback coach Alex Wood added that dimension for bowl practices and tried to implement checks in the game plan against a strong Wisconsin defense, but without much success. Dick and Mustain were given multiple chances with run-pass checks against the Badgers, but neither was able to move the offense in the bowl game.

That's when David Lee entered, taking the reigns as offensive coordinator with a new offense, mostly NFL stuff he brought from the Dallas Cowboys. With it came a sophisticated series of what he calls "smokes, alerts, kills and audibles." Along with them came new routes, new reads for receivers and a playbook about twice the size of the old one.

We were warned that it would take time for this offense to click. In fact, Lee told us that things might get worse before it gets better and those promises were realized early in spring drills. How long would it take for things to settle in for the quarterback and the rest of the offense? Lee didn't know, but he would remain committed to it.

The media was allowed to watch spring drills. Seldom was it pretty, but you could see some the implementation of those schemes, those reads for the quarterback. The media was allowed to see some of the early practices in the fall before access was shut down as the team began to game plan for the season opener against Troy.

The checks and audibles seem to be there, but it didn't seem like the command was there at quarterback, perhaps because of the lack of ability and experience at wide receiver, especially after Marcus Monk went down with an injury.

Fast forward to Friday afternoon when the Reggie Herring, the interim head coach, strolled to the sideline during the pre-practice session in Walker Pavilion. He hailed the only media member then present with some news. The rest of the way, all the way to the bowl, is going to be open to the media. Stay and enjoy every minute, Herring said, slapping the reporter on the back as he headed back to midfield.

So what did I get out of the last two days in Walker Pavilion? Casey Dick, as Lee confirmed Saturday afternoon as we walked through the snow towards the Broyles Center, has got it. He is a college quarterback both in arm strength, ability to make Lee's smokes, alerts, kills and audibles.

We saw it happen before our very eyes against Mississippi State and LSU, but I didn't believe it until I watched almost 70 plays of teamwork in practice Saturday afternoon. Lee smiled and nodded his head when a writer speculated that it might have happened sometime in November. It probably didn't hurt that the last part of November is also about the time that Monk began to heal and become a big part of the offense again. He looked quick and sharp Saturday, providing more encouragement for bowl preparations.

"That's probably right on when it hit Casey," Lee said. "That's right on the timing. That's when he got it. In this meaning, it means the game finally slowed down for Casey. It started to slow down sometime in November. That's when you can say ‘he's got it.'

"When it slows down, he sees things more clearly. It happens to every college quarterback at a different time. For me, it happened in the middle of my junior year in college."

None of this surprised Lee. He said the only way for the offense to work was to throw it all out there at the start.

"From day one, I said we'd take exactly what we did in Dallas and use every bit of it," Lee said. "You can't add it a little at a time. It won't work. We had to put it all in and we did. We put in the smokes, alerts, kills and audibles for the quarterback. It sounds like a lot and it is.

"I knew it would take time for Casey. It did. But we had to do it that way. What you have to remember is that this is the fourth offense in four years for Casey. He had a high school offense, then what they were doing here his freshman year. Then it was on to the stuff Gus put in. Then, this is the fourth offense."

Hmmm, that means next year will be the fifth in five seasons since it's obvious new coach Bobby Petrino will bring his own scheme.

"No, that's the good news," Lee said. "I think there will be great carry-over for Casey and this offense with what Bobby is bringing. He's bringing a lot of the same things we added. It may have a different number to it when you talk about specific plays, but it's going to be the same stuff.

"The thing is, he's done it now. It finally slowed down for him. He's had that growth. I don't think there is any doubt that we were the bridge to what was needed for Casey and this offense. And, it's not just Casey, but everyone in this offense. They've all seen it and done it now.

"I think it's all the quarterbacks. Nathan Dick has had it. It's helped him, too. They aren't going to see a whole lot of different things with the next offense. It's going to be like the system we put in last spring and ran this year.

"You've seen him handle it against some pretty good defenses late in the year. Mississippi State and LSU are both very good in what they do. I don't think there is any doubt Casey has got it now."

Hopefully, Casey Dick doesn't lose it over the next few weeks as the Hogs prepare for a potential duel with Chase Daniel. With a pair of quarterbacks who've "got it" matching wits, that old scoreboard in the Cotton Bowl might blow up.

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