COLUMBIA -- It was proven again Saturday. Who's playing quarterback for South Carolina is irrelevant.
Who's playing in front of Chris Smelley or Blake Mitchell is the problem.
"Mainly we just had guys getting beat," coach Steve Spurrier said, after the No. 6 Gamecocks were upset 17-6 by Vanderbilt.
The Gamecocks' beleaguered offensive line was punished for seven sacks and committed five false starts, bad for any team but especially troublesome for a squad that was supposedly a Top 10 team. That it happened in the eighth game of the season, well past the time when any part of a team should have been set, was another kick in the gut.
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"We always feel the pressure. At the beginning of the year, winter workouts, all the time," center Web Brown said. "It's all on us.
"That's something we take pride in, that our teammates are counting on us. We feel like we let our teammates down."
Without any push up front, USC's passing game couldn't materialize, forcing the Gamecocks to rely on their bread-and-butter throws -- dumping underneath to the tailbacks or fullbacks and looking for sideline routes. But even when a play would hit or another unit would pop a big gain -- like Captain Munnerlyn's 46-yard punt return in the second quarter -- the offense couldn't deliver.
A big piece of that was the line. Setting up on the Commodores' 17-yard-line with 2:15 before the half, trailing 17-3 after Munnerlyn's return, USC needed a touchdown. But after a trick double pass from Kenny McKinley missed Weslye Saunders in the end zone, Jamon Meredith false-started.
Backed up 5 yards, Cory Boyd was tripped after a 6-yard run and Smelley found McKinley for a 7-yard gain. Facing fourth-and-two from the 9, USC decided to go for it.
The offense was penalized for illegal substitution. Fleeced out of 5 more yards, the Gamecocks kicked a field goal and never got inside the 10 again.
Meredith false-started again and Brown, Justin Sorensen and Seaver Brown each had one. The only one who didn't false-start was Lemuel Jeanpierre, but he was part of the guard tandem that allowed Ryan Hamilton to safety-blitz untouched past them for two pressures later in the game.
Big problem, and the same problem USC's had all season. And it's not going to get any better, personnel-wise -- Spurrier held tryouts this week and the winners went out and let Vanderbilt walk all over them.
"Well, we can't trade any of them," Spurrier said. "We're going to coach them as hard as we can. Obviously we can't get third-and-15 all the time, can't get false starts."
Web Brown vowed he'd take his role as a fifth-year senior seriously and encourage all of his linemates this week in practice, trying to get everything together before next week's trip to Tennessee. He doesn't have much choice -- the line has to get better in a hurry, because Brown and James Thompson are each leaving after this season, leaving the job up to unproven subs and the raw recruits that were redshirted this year -- all two of them.
"It's weird because you feel you've been working hard all year as a unit, in practice, busting your tail to get your assignments down and you come out in the game and just not perform like you do in practice," Brown said. "I've been here five years and I've seen a lot happen here. We got something good going on right now and I don't want to lose it."