College Sports

O-line starting over

COLUMBIA -- History usually doesn't help in the present.

South Carolina's offensive line is looking backward anyway.

"We don't like to talk about it because we hear it from so many other angles," tackle Justin Sorensen said. "But, yeah, we hope we can come together this game and start playing good as a unit."

The No. 6 Gamecocks' offensive line has been so inconsistent this year that coach Steve Spurrier is still looking for a set starting group heading into Saturday's tilt with Vanderbilt, the season's seventh game. Injuries have taken a toll, but the guys who have played most of the snaps have been roundly criticized for shoddy blocking and not allowing the passing game to develop.

Spurrier demoted the entire group to tryout status earlier this week, telling everybody they'd have to re-earn a starting spot. With center Web Brown (elbow infection) trying to stay healthy and guards Seaver Brown and James Thompson fighting for their jobs, Spurrier's hoping the competition will have an effect like it did last year.

Playing the Commodores last year, the line suddenly came together. The blocking improved and the five starters banded together, giving the Gamecocks the necessary up-front presence they needed for the stretch run.

A year later, Spurrier and the linemen are hoping it happens again. It's obvious, after a second-half meltdown against North Carolina last week led to an inability to get a first down, something's wrong.

"Coach is looking for the guys that are going to be consistent," Brown said recently. "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 line has had Brown at center, Sorensen at right tackle and Jamon Meredith at left tackle all year. The guards, with injuries and Spurrier's frustration, have revolved.

"It wasn't just the guards that missed the guys running through on some plays, either," Spurrier said. "Our tackles missed some guys here and there, too."

So the focus this week has been on everybody moving one way and remembering the assignments. It only takes one defender to disrupt the quarterback, which kills the receivers and running backs, leading to no points.

Not to mention another excuse to raise Spurrier's ire.

"A lot of people don't understand how complex offensive line can be, and I agree that you and your partner have to be working exactly together to be successful," Sorensen said. "Whereas if y'all are on different pages, you can be great athletes and great players, but if you aren't on the same page, then sometimes it's hard to be successful as a unit."

Last year the line was bailed out of problems by the mobile talents of quarterback Syvelle Newton, who often spied the rush coming and bolted for a first down. While it made it hard to block for him -- "You never knew where Syvelle was going to go," Sorensen said -- it made it easier to stand in one place once Newton's replacement, Blake Mitchell, returned.

Spurrier's already said Mitchell will play some this week after three straight games on the bench. Whether that will affect the line -- starter Chris Smelley is mobile, but not as much as Newton was -- is anyone's guess.

"Yes, we probably didn't give up as many sacks with Syvelle in there because he was better at eluding defensive ends and tackles when we did get beat," Sorensen explained. "Then again, with Blake, you know exactly where he's going to be, so you know exactly where to try and make your guy not be."