College Sports

Spurrier continues to move pieces around to find right fit

USC quarterback Blake Mitchell, above, will be on the sidelines Saturday after coach Steve Spurrier named Chris Smelley the starter against Mississippi State.
USC quarterback Blake Mitchell, above, will be on the sidelines Saturday after coach Steve Spurrier named Chris Smelley the starter against Mississippi State.

COLUMBIA -- Another week, another shuffle.

If South Carolina does challenge for the SEC championship this season, it'll be interesting to see who's actually on the field when it happens.

"We're still learning around here," coach Steve Spurrier said, previewing the No. 16 Gamecocks' Homecoming matchup against Mississippi State Saturday. "We've got to find out if some other players can play better than those we've been putting out there. Simple as that."

Spurrier announced immediately after last week's 28-16 loss to LSU that Chris Smelley would start over Blake Mitchell at quarterback this week. Two days later, he had to put Marvin Sapp in at middle linebacker because Jasper Brinkley was lost to a season-ending knee injury.

Tuesday, Spurrier said redshirt freshman Seaver Brown would start against MSU at left guard, over Lemuel Jeanpierre. Another newbie, freshman Dion Lecorn, will line up at one of the Gamecocks' wide receiver spots over Freddie Brown.

"I've had it like this many a time before," Spurrier said. "Then hopefully by about mid-year you find out who your best players are."

The mid-year is fast approaching. USC (3-1, 1-1 SEC) is hoping to find some answers before MSU instead of trying to find them in a short week of practice before the next game (Oct. 4 vs. No. 14 Kentucky).

And while it's concerning to some about the lack of stability in chunks of the Gamecocks' total package, the team feels it's necessary to get the best talent on the field.

"Coach is looking for the guys that are going to be consistent," center Web Brown said. "The guys that are going to practice and play hard and do their assignments are the ones that are going to play on Saturday."

The key to this week seems to be rushing defense. The Bulldogs (3-1, 1-1) like to run, posting 165.2 yards per game, and the Gamecocks are giving up 216.5.

That was with Brinkley plugging the middle. Without him, it may be worse.

"With Sapp, he talked to us yesterday and said he was going to pick it up," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. "I've got faith in Sapp that he's going to pick it up and go out and play football."

There's also the constant question of the Gamecocks' offense. With the quarterback play rotating and the receivers not catching, Spurrier is seeking a solution. He knows tailbacks Cory Boyd and Mike Davis can't run forever and is hoping Smelley will provide a spark.

"We thought he played a little bit better than Blake in that game," Spurrier said, referring to LSU. "So we're going to give him a chance."

Spurrier also quickly pointed out Mitchell wasn't out of the picture. Smelley's starting because he can move out of a pass-rush better than Mitchell can, and hopefully can buy some time for his receivers to get open.

If not, Mitchell could be back in the huddle.

"We haven't filed anybody off," Spurrier said. "So Blake, hopefully he'll have a good attitude about this and hopefully understand that his play has not been all that good."