College Sports

Smelley back to starter

COLUMBIA -- Timing is everything in Steve Spurrier's offense -- and Chris Smelley's time is now.

Smelley is scheduled to make his third career start at quarterback this week against Mississippi State after replacing an ineffective Blake Mitchell in the second half of South Carolina's 28-16 loss at LSU.

Smelley threw for 174 yards and led the Gamecocks to two fourth-quarter scores. But it was Smelley's quick release that prompted Spurrier to make a quick decision and name Smelley this week's starter minutes after the LSU loss.

"I thought (Smelley) made some good, quick throws there and got rid of the ball and got hit," Spurrier said Sunday. "He threw some good-looking passes out there and hit a bunch of guys here and there.

"Blake had a lot of pressure on him. He's just struggling right now, so we're going to give Chris Smelley a chance."

The Gamecocks remained in the Top 25 in both polls despite the loss. USC slipped four spots to No. 16 in the AP rankings and fell from 14th to 21st in the coaches poll.

Smelley, who completed 12-of-26 passes with a touchdown and an interception against the Tigers, will have a chance "to go the distance," against Mississippi State, Spurrier said. Spurrier would not specify whether Mitchell or redshirt sophomore Tommy Beecher would be the No. 2 quarterback.

Mitchell, a fifth-year senior with a 12-7 record as a starter, dropped to 88th nationally in passing efficiency after throwing four interceptions the past two weeks against S.C. State and LSU. Spurrier said last week that Mitchell needed to play with more confidence and be less hesitant in the pocket.

Mitchell was 7-of-16 for 70 yards against LSU. He was sacked twice and intercepted once.

Although he mentioned the poor protection Mitchell received, Spurrier indicated Smelley got rid of the ball quicker against the Tigers' top-ranked defense.

"He was catching it and throwing it," Spurrier said. "We don't try to hold it very long back there."

Smelley, a redshirt freshman from Tuscaloosa, Ala., takes over an offense that has yet to get its passing game clicking. USC is tied for 71st among 119 Division I teams in passing offense with 210.3 yards per game.

"If you can't throw it and you can't catch it, you're not a very good passing team," Spurrier said after the game.

Smelley underthrew tight end Weslye Saunders on a corner route that was intercepted, but Spurrier said the right-hander "played pretty decent, considering the situation."

The Gamecocks' line, which has allowed nine sacks, might get a makeover this week.

Spurrier said James Thompson, who replaced guard Garrett Anderson for much of the LSU game, could start against the Bulldogs. Thompson was a projected starter before being suspended the first three games for violating university policy.

Redshirt freshman Seaver Brown also will get a look at guard, according to Spurrier.

But those moves will not generate the buzz created by the change at quarterback. Smelley hopes to build on the Gamecocks' mini-rally against LSU.

"I'm going to do the same things I've been doing," Smelley said of his approach this week. "We moved the ball a little bit (in the fourth quarter), so I think we'll be ready next week."

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