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Nov. 4, 2006

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – Arkansas’ running game was once again dominant, led by Darren McFadden’s career-high 219 yards.

Casey Dick and Marcus Monk made the Razorbacks potent in the passing game, too.

Dick relieved freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain and threw for 228 yards and Monk had eight catches for a career-best 192 yards in a 26-20 win over South Carolina on Saturday night.

Mustain was pulled after throwing an interception on the first series.

“This is a very critical time in November and we needed just a little bit more experience,” Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. “I had to go with Casey and he did a good job.

Dick went 11-for-19 with a touchdown. He said he wasn’t nervous. “Coach just put me out there and said it’s yours,” he said.

Arkansas (8-1, 5-0 SOUTHeastern Conference) is in first-place in the SEC West thanks in large part to its ground game, which gained 267 yards to pad its league-leading average of 235. McFadden has now passed 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons.

But three of the biggest plays were passes from Dick to Monk.

Monk had a 26-yard reception on third-and-10 and a 14-yard catch on third-and-8 to keep the Razorbacks’ game-ending drive alive after South Carolina (5-4, 3-4) got two second-half touchdowns to cut its deficit to six. Monk also had a 50-yard touchdown reception that bounced off a defender with two seconds to go in the first half.

“They wanted to stop the run, so we had to take them out of that,” Monk said. “They played a lot of single coverage. I was happy with that.”

The Gamecocks trailed 23-6 at half, but got a spark when backup quarterback Blake Mitchell took over after the break. The junior completed 15 of 21 passes for 213 yards, leading touchdown drives of 92 and 99 yards to trim what started as a 20-point deficit to 26-20 early in the fourth quarter.

“Those two drives were two of the best drives – catch and throw, catch and throw – I’ve ever seen,” said Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring, who has been coaching for more than two decades.

But Mitchell finally made a mistake, throwing an interception to Darius Vinnett on an under-thrown ball with just over five minutes to go with South Carolina down six and in Arkansas territory.

South Carolina had other mistakes too – allowing a 50-yard TD pass in the waning moments of the first half, nullifying a first-half touchdown with an offensive pass interference penalty and lining up in an illegal formation on a punt and having the re-kick blocked for a safety.

“That’s why we’re losers around here – because we don’t do the little things right,” Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said.

Meanwhile, Arkansas is doing most everything right.

The Razorbacks have to win two of their last three games to win the Western Division, although the schedule isn’t easy with No. 8 Tennessee next weekend, at an improving Mississippi State, then finishing the regular season against No. 13 LSU. No. 6 Florida has already won the East and a spot in the SEC title game.

An undefeated run through that schedule and the Hogs could make up a lot of ground in the BCS, too. They were 13th this week.

Dick said the team isn’t talking about the BCS. “We’ve got too much to do before we get there,” he said.

After the game, Nutt said he wanted to talk to his coaches before deciding if Dick will take over the starting job from Mustain.

South Carolina remains a win away from bowl eligibility with an emotional game against Florida coming up next Saturday as Spurrier returns to coach at The Swamp for the first time since leaving the Gators after the 2001 season.

Spurrier said Mitchell will start because “we’ve got to throw the ball to play those guys” but said Newton will also take some snaps too.

The Gamecocks continue to frustrate the Head Ball Coach – Spurrier’s preferred nickname. This is the third loss to a top 15 team by a touchdown or less this season. The loss also guarantees the first back-to-back seasons with less than 10 wins for Spurrier since going 8-4 with Duke in 1989 and 9-2 a year later when he took over Florida.

“Maybe they’re a lot better than us,” Spurrier said of Arkansas. “We were fortunate enough to get close – I don’t know what happened.”