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