COLUMBIA -- Boy, just when we all thought we had a handle on South Carolina's quarterback situation.
"We may let Blake go play some this week," coach Steve Spurrier said Tuesday, previewing his matchup with Vanderbilt. "There's not a huge difference between he and Chris Smelley, probably."
Yep, that's correct. Blake Mitchell is not the forgotten man after all, and may get some snaps this week.
"He's practiced well," Spurrier said. "And maybe he deserves to play. How's that for a reason?"
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Herald
The No. 6 Gamecocks (6-1, 3-1 SEC), after a scary second half at North Carolina last week, knew they'd have to shake up their offensive line (again). That issue was addressed at practice two days ago, when Spurrier announced the entire line had been demoted to tryout status.
But ever since Smelley took over during the second half of a 28-16 loss at LSU, he's been the Gamecocks' only signal-caller. Mitchell, the embattled fifth-year senior who was suspended for the season-opener for missing too much class, has helped call in the plays to Smelley from the sidelines during the past three games.
That may change against the Commodores. While Spurrier said Smelley will start, Mitchell may play if the offense continues to struggle.
"Chris wasn't all that bad ... wasn't all that great," Spurrier said. "There's probably not a huge difference right now. But Chris is starting the game and we'll go from there."
Much of the offense's problems have come from porous protection, which contributed to Mitchell's benching after the first half at LSU. Smelley was quicker to move out of trouble than Mitchell, and while Smelley has won two SEC Freshman of the Week honors since taking over, he was harassed during the second half of the UNC game.
Some of it was the team's inability to convert third-and-short situations. With a 21-3 lead, USC was trying to burn the clock with running plays, and when Smelley was asked to pass, he may not have been as ready as if he'd been throwing on every down.
He wasn't awful but was far from perfect, such as when the Gamecocks had just squelched a UNC red-zone drive with Emanuel Cook's interception. Smelley hit Kenny McKinley with a 17-yard pass on the next play but two plays after, didn't see UNC linebacker Mark Paschal camped in the flat, daring him to throw.
The pass was tipped by Paschal and caught one-handed for an interception, leading to the pulse-pounding final minutes.
Smelley said when he got the starting job he was excited for the opportunity but realized Mitchell would get another chance.
"We hate that it had to be like this for Blake," he said, describing the progress of himself and fellow backup Tommy Beecher. "We know he's really going to be ready to get back in there when he gets his opportunity."
That may be Saturday, although Spurrier said it wasn't that big a deal. He's already mentioned several times this season that switching quarterbacks isn't a bad move if it helps the team win, and pointed out Tuesday that Vanderbilt, with Chris Nickson and Mackenzi Adams, may also use a two-headed quarterback system.
"Sometimes, maybe, winning like that helps you prepare for the next week," Spurrier said. "Because we certainly don't have a bunch of cocky players around here. We do not. We have a bunch of players who realize we could lose to anybody we play if we don't improve our play here real soon."
VANDERBILT (3-3, 1-3 SEC) AT NO. 6 SOUTH CAROLINA (6-1, 3-1)
• When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday
• Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia
• TV: Pay-per-view
• Tickets: Sold out