South Carolina QB Smelley to take reins against Ole Miss
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- It'll be at least another week until the people's choice at South Carolina, freshman Stephen Garcia, starts his first game at quarterback.
Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier named sophomore Chris Smelley to open against Mississippi on Saturday. And unlike he did a week ago, Spurrier did not guarantee that Garcia would see any action at all.
When specifically asked if Garcia would take several snaps, Spurrier answered, "Like I said, Chris Smelley will start the game and we'll see how it goes to try and win the game."
The Gamecocks (3-2, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) enter this one with a six-game SEC losing streak, by far the worst of Spurrier's stellar career.
Smelley was "mentally better prepared" to lead the Gamecocks, Spurrier said.
That's a far cry from earlier this week when Spurrier said Garcia was likely to start, then pretty much confirmed that on his subscription Web site, spurrierhbc.com. The team's depth chart also listed the redshirt freshman as QB starter.
"Did I say he would start?" Spurrier asked coyly Tuesday. "My bad, then. I take that back. I was wrong."
It didn't look that way to some last Saturday night, when Garcia threw for a touchdown and ran for another in a 26-13 victory over UAB. Garcia passed for 131 yards, ran for 86 and looked like the versatile playmaker Spurrier has sought at the position since arriving four seasons ago.
Fans at Williams-Brice Stadium applauded Garcia's feats, glad at last to see the quarterback considered among Spurrier's best South Carolina recruits when he came to campus in January 2007. Internet chat rooms and sports talk shows, including Spurrier's own, were filled with fans wanting Garcia to play full-time.
Apparently, Garcia did not progress at practice the way Spurrier hoped.
"We're trying to get a little quicker, trying to get the ball out of their hands and let Stephen know this ain't high school ball anymore," Spurrier said.
Spurrier said against UAB, Garcia would often drop back and almost immediately seek a running lane instead of tracking his pass receivers.
"But that was his first time out," Spurrier said. "We're just trying to coach."
Smelley has started the past four games, including last week against the Blazers. But Smelley was just 3-of-9 for 44 yards and an interception.
Spurrier has complained that Smelley holds onto the ball too long, sometimes missing connections throwing a second or two later than the coach's scheme demands.
Spurrier is looking to spark an attack that ranks eighth in the SEC in total offense.
Spurrier did not make his quarterbacks available Wednesday or Thursday.
Whoever plays under center could have the Gamecocks' top receiver back. Spurrier says injured wideout Kenny McKinley would suit up and test his pulled right hamstring during warmups before deciding if he'd start.
McKinley caught 77 passes last season. But he's been out since the first half at Vanderbilt after injuring his hamstring.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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