South Carolina's Smelley to start at QB vs. Mississippi State

Updated: September 23, 2007, 6:31 PM ET
Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Steve Spurrier is at it again, shuffling quarterbacks at South Carolina until he finds someone who plays the ball coach's game.

The latest demotee is Blake Mitchell, a fifth-year senior who only a week ago Spurrier declared would be the one to take the 16th-ranked Gamecocks (3-1) as far as they would go this season.

But after South Carolina's undefeated start ended with No. 2 LSU's 28-16 victory, Spurrier said freshman Chris Smelley would get the start when the Gamecocks return to action this week against Mississippi State (3-1).

It's the second straight year Mitchell's been benched early in the season.

"Blake's had a lot of pressure on him'' and that has led to erratic performances, Spurrier said. "So we're going to give Chris Smelley a chance right now.''

Mitchell lost his starting spot in 2006 after South Carolina's 18-0 loss to Georgia. He returned late in the season and led the Gamecocks to close with three straight wins -- something that hadn't happened in 33 years.

But Mitchell hasn't looked as sharp so far this year. He was 7 of 16 for 70 yards against LSU before Smelley took over.

The loss dropped South Carolina four spots in this week's ranking and ended their six-game win streak.

Spurrier had been concerned about Mitchell's tendency to hold the ball too long, missing chances to connect with receivers on timing patterns.

Smelley did a good job, Spurrier said, in getting rid of the ball quickly enough to move the Gamecocks. Smelley was 12 of 26 for 174 yards and South Carolina's only touchdown pass Saturday, a 1-yard scoring toss to Kenny McKinley.

Spurrier didn't want to get into particulars about what Mitchell did wrong to lose his spot. "But obviously we weren't going very far and we just decided to let Chris have a chance,'' Spurrier said. "He threw the ball pretty well, actually.''

Spurrier also didn't say if Mitchell or third-stringer Tommy Beecher would come in if Smelley was ineffective or aggravated the sprained right shoulder hurt in the Gamecocks' opener against Louisiana-Lafayette.

"Right now, Chris has a chance to go the distance,'' Spurrier said.

Spurrier was a Heisman Trophy winner as Florida's quarterback in 1966. He has called his own plays and coached quarterbacks throughout his career -- and that has led to some quick hooks for Spurrier's starters.

Figuring out Spurrier's rotation during his later seasons at Florida was a puzzle. He went with little-used Jesse Palmer against the Gamecocks in 1999 over starter Doug Johnson.

A year later, it was Palmer again going for the Gators in the South Carolina game when Spurrier was dissatisfied with starter Rex Grossman.

In 2006, Spurrier thought Mitchell was ready to do great things as South Carolina's quarterback, saying his player had a chance to be an all-Southeastern Conference pick.

Instead, Mitchell flopped so badly he was replaced after two games by the more mobile Syvelle Newton.

But Mitchell kept his poise and stayed ready. When Spurrier brought him in the second half of South Carolina's game with Arkansas a year back, Mitchell nearly rallied the team back from a 17-point deficit before losing 26-20.

Mitchell started the rest of the season. The way he finished had Spurrier and Gamecock fans hopeful Mitchell would pick up where he left off.

But whether it was a one-game academic suspension that made him miss the opener or a three-interception, one-fumble performance against South Carolina State two games ago, Mitchell did not meet expectations -- and finds himself again out of action.

After the LSU loss, Mitchell was asked what he would do on the sidelines. "Just sit there and wait until, I guess, somebody else messes up and I might get a chance to get back in there,'' he said.

With Spurrier as coach, that could be as soon as the next game.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press