Columbia, S. C. -- It's hard to say which South Carolina quarterback to praise (or blame) after a 34-21 victory over Arkansas. Chris Smelley and Stephen Garcia alternated on almost every play.
But it's obvious what Arkansas fans will do over the next two weeks. With a bye week (after eight straight games), Razorback fans will probably hammer on quarterback Casey Dick.
It's like Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said earlier this season when the senior quarterback was knocked silly at Texas. That position gets too much of the blame and too much of the credit. And, it's also the nature of Petrino's system. The quarterback makes the checks, reads and throws.
Never was it more evident than Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium. Dick struggled to handle the reads and was often late delivering passes. He had two tipped at the line, was called for grounding and threw three interceptions.
Since the first day of spring drills, it has been clear the Hogs will win with Dick, or lose. There were no other options because of the relative inexperience at that position.
The biggest interception was a soft toss that defensive end Jordin Lindsey grabbed on the final play of the third quarter. His 40-yard return to the UA 15 seem to take the air out of the Razorbacks.
Until then, the Arkansas defense fought valiantly. After that, the defense slumped, giving up a quick touchdown pass. The next time the Gamecocks got the ball, they ran it 11 straight times on a 72-yard march that took off over six minutes on the clock and made it 34-14.
As much as he praised Dick for some of his performances earlier this season, Petrino was hard this time. He focused on those interceptions, with special mention for the third.
"The back was wide open in the flat," Petrino said. "You have got to get it over the defensive end's hands. I thought we would play a lot better than that. I didn't like the way we came out. When you throw three interceptions, you are going to have a heckuva time winning."
The Hogs didn't make a first down until their sixth possession. Amazingly, they were still in it, down just 10-7, after Dick hit Lucas Miller for 10 yards and then Jarius Wright for a 70-yard touchdown strike on the next play.
"We thought we would have that play, but we didn't want to go to it in the first quarter because we were so shaky," Petrino said. "We decided to wait until we got the wind."
They were shaky early. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said the Gamecocks were in the expected looks, but the Hogs didn't execute.
"The big play in the game was the interception in the flat," he said. "You either get it over the end, or wait a little longer.
"South Carolina brought the pressures we expected. We just didn't handle them. They were where we thought they would be and knew what they were doing. We had the right checks. On those third downs early, one of them Casey looked the wrong way. The other time he just didn't decide to pull the trigger.
"That's all just part of our offense. Casey has to make those plays. But it's not just him. All of us have to make plays better. We lose as a whole group. You don't single out one guy. It's the nature of that position for that to happen sometimes."
Sadly, that's the way it works, though. Fans are always going to root for someone else to play that position. Joe Ferguson, perhaps the most talented UA quarterback ever, didn't start his final game as a Razorback and no one seemed to mind.
It drips with irony that Dick would suffer so much in Columbia and just a week after winning SEC offensive player of the week honors. It was two years ago in the same setting where he took over for Mitch Mustain. And, it would come on a day when he passed Barry Lunney for the single season UA record for completions. Lunney had 180 in 1995. Dick's 10th completion of the day gave him the record.
That Dick and Lunney's names would appear in the same thought on this Saturday probably makes sense. Lunney never received the credit he deserved in a solid four-year campaign. Dick probably won't either.
Most forget that he's had five different offensive coordinators dating back to his senior year in high school. He'll be gone soon and some Arkansas fans will revel in that. They are ready for Ryan Mallett, already anointed by fans as their next great one.
Even Dick's peformance last week drew complaints from fans. On a day he should have gotten the school record for passing yards (there were drops that could have cost him another 50 yards), Dick was remembered most for throwing an interception a the end that gave Tulsa life.
I heard two fans argue after the game that it was Dick's fault that Tulsa was throwing into the end zone with a chance to tie. Another was replying, "No, it's the coaching." The reply to that, "No, it's the quarterback."
The truth is somewhere in between. Petrino's system will allow a quarterback to shine beyond anything anyone has ever seen at Arkansas. The problem is that quarterbacks may not always get it right early on. In time, others will fail to get it perfect, but it's going to be fun to watch as other quarterbacks get the chance.
My prediction is that Casey Dick will be roasted this coming week by fans. It's too bad. My wish is that folks let him do his thing in this wonderful system for a couple more games and remember him for last week, more than what he did in Columbia.
Beyond that, it's probably a cinch that some will be calling for Mallett (or Nathan Dick or Tyler Wilson) to be benched sometime during the first game next September. Steve Spurrier, the Carolina coach, may have it right when he changes his quarterbacks on every play. He can whisper in their ears exactly what he wants done before every snap.
And, it keeps the fans off balance. The fans never know exactly which quarterback to root against.
Quarterback gets too much blame
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