Second Chance

COLUMBIA, S.C. — He has coached Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel. He has tutored Chicago Bears quarterback Rex Grossman. So, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier knows a thing or two about quality quarterbacks.

That said, Spurrier still wasted no time Saturday night throwing Blake Mitchell's name in with his former pupils.

"Blake Mitchell played as good a half of football, except for one throw, than about any quarterback I've ever had," Spurrier said.

It wasn't enough, though.

Mitchell did all he could to rally the Gamecocks from a 17-point halftime deficit in Williams-Brice Stadium.

But it was his one mistake — his only miscue of the entire game — that cost South Carolina a shot at an upset of the No. 12 team in the country.

He never saw Arkansas cornerback Darius Vinnett on a first-and-10 pass play, with just more than five minutes left, and his pass never reached Mike Davis' hands. It found Vinnett's, and Arkansas held on for a 26-20 victory despite Mitchell's stellar second-half showing.

"For us to beat them he had to play perfect, and he didn't play perfect," Spurrier said. "He had one bad throw."

Sure, Mitchell was depressed after the loss. But part of him felt proud, even vindicated by his 15-of-21, 213-yard performance which all came in the second half.

Mitchell started 11 of 12 games last season as a sophomore, throwing for 2,370 yards and leading South Carolina to a 14-10 victory over the Razorbacks last Nov. 5 in Fayetteville.

But after two games this season, Mitchell was yanked from the lineup after being arrested for allegedly punching a bouncer in the face.

Syvelle Newton took over and energized the Gamecocks offense with his athleticism. In the meantime, Mitchell patiently waited his turn.

"I was definitely down on myself, but I've hung in there, done my best in practice and just hoped and prayed for another chance," Mitchell said.

He stayed positive, always ready during games, an approach that paid off Saturday night when Newton struggled in the first half. Trailing 23-6 at halftime, South Carolina turned to Mitchell to open the second half.

He proceeded to lead touchdown drives of 92 and 99 yards on the Gamecocks' first two possessions. Mitchell seemed at ease with quick three-step drops and snappy throws.

"(Blake) was relaxed," Spurrier said. "He throws a good fade ball and a good slant."

Spurrier named Mitchell the starter for the coach's return trip to Gainesville next Saturday. There, Mitchell will play on the same field that Wuerffel and Grossman did.

"(Being the starter again) is what I've been waiting on," Mitchell said.

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