College Sports

Quarterback carousel

Some of Blake Mitchell's problems this year have been because of his offensive line, but coach Steve Spurrier is unhappy with the rest of Mitchell's decisions.
Some of Blake Mitchell's problems this year have been because of his offensive line, but coach Steve Spurrier is unhappy with the rest of Mitchell's decisions.

COLUMBIA -- It's not surprising South Carolina's Steve Spurrier has reverted to his Florida-esque style of coaching quarterbacks.

It's surprising it took two full seasons and five games into a third before it happened with the Gamecocks.

"Yeah, (Chris Smelley)'s starting next week. Yeah, you can write that down," Spurrier said, minutes after last week's 28-16 loss at No. 2 LSU. "We don't need any suspense. We'll give him a chance, see what he can do."

After a half of watching starter Blake Mitchell get pounded by the aggressive Tigers defense, Spurrier turned to Smelley. Smelley didn't play that well either, but Spurrier apparently saw enough that he benched Mitchell for today's game against Mississippi State.

Each quarterback has been harassed this season because of a leaky offensive line. But Smelley is more of a scrambler, able to avoid some pass-rushes, and Spurrier has seemingly lost patience with Mitchell, his starter for three years.

Spurrier mentioned two weeks ago he was disappointed Mitchell had not progressed from where he was in 2005. Screaming at him in practice never helped -- Mitchell would quietly accept the criticism and never get into a shouting match, leading Spurrier to quit yelling because it wasn't doing any good.

Mitchell's been benched before, but because of off-the-field actions. This is the first time he's been pulled because of his play.

An arrest for a bar fight sat him for a game last year, and Syvelle Newton played so well as a substitute that Spurrier stuck with him until Newton was ineffective, giving Mitchell another shot.

Then the fifth-year senior got nailed again, this time for missing summer class, and took a seat in this year's season-opener against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Mitchell played well the next week against Georgia, rotated with Tommy Beecher against S.C. State and was yanked again at halftime of the LSU game. Spurrier barely settled into his seat for the postgame press conference before announcing Smelley, who started the ULL game, would get another shot against Mississippi State.

"Blake, hopefully he'll have a good attitude about this and hopefully understand that his play has not been all that good," Spurrier said. "I know he's had pressure on him and I know the pass-rush has been fierce and I know our offensive guard play has been pretty lousy.

"But we've got to see if maybe somebody can dodge a rusher and get a ball off."

So a full-fledged quarterback controversy arose at USC. Spurrier spent the week rebutting opinions on rotating his field generals, saying Mitchell and Smelley's woes under center weren't strictly the cause of the offensive line.

"The last time I won a conference championship, I played two quarterbacks," Spurrier said, pointing out Florida's 2000 tandem of Rex Grossman and Jesse Palmer. "Some people think you're supposed to stick with quarterbacks. I've never felt that way, unless they perform."

Smelley said he'll be quicker to move out of the pocket this week, considering he was sacked against ULL, sprained his shoulder and sat out the next two games. Mitchell was quiet as usual, saying he was disappointed but the decision wasn't his and he'd live with it.

"That'll be all up to coach," Smelley said at LSU, answering a question if Mitchell was still an option. "We'll have to see how we do in practice."

Tailback Cory Boyd said the Gamecocks were behind both of their embattled quarterbacks. Boyd said the two understood that as quarterbacks, they have to take the brunt of criticism for a struggling offense, even if it's not completely their fault.

"I'm happy to see we've got a quarterback in there, just like Blake, that'll still try to make the tough throws," Boyd said. "Blake is Blake. I'm looking forward to seeing him come back and be the quarterback he was last year in the last part of the season."

Spurrier said he would continue to stick with the guy who performed the best. Mitchell is listed as Smelley's backup this week and could play, although Smelley will get the chance to go the distance.

"If you go bad, you don't stay out there," Spurrier said. "Earn it every week."

Related stories from Rock Hill Herald