Scrimmage Report: Smelley Takes Spotlight

Steve Spurrier's 2006 edition of the Gamecocks took the field at Williams-Brice Stadium for the first time Saturday for a 70-play intra-squad scrimmage. An estimated crowd of 4,500 fans braved threatening skies to watch the scrimmage. They were rewarded with unseasonably cool temperatures and a number of exciting plays from several young players, along with some familiar faces.

Coach Spurrier was generally pleased with how the players performed. "We had some good plays offensively; we had some good plays defensively. We're trying to find out who can play their assignment the best and go from there." Spurrier continued to stress that he is only interested in how each player performs, and not whether one group "wins" against another group. "Obviously, if one side does pretty well, the other side doesn't. We're not expecting to look super right now. It's just practice, and what we do against Mississippi State is all that counts."

The scrimmage was set up so that, for the most part, the first string offense played against the first team defense. On the next series the second teams would face off, followed by the third teams. As the scrimmage went on, there were more substitutions, especially on the third team where starters occasionally appeared playing alternate positions.

On the first drive of the scrimmage, the defense got the better of the offense. Blake Mitchell hit Jared Cook for an 18-yard strike, his only catch on the afternoon. However, the offense failed to gain another first down, and the defense held on 4th and 3. The second string lineups came in, and once again the defense came out on top. Cade Thompson struggled during the scrimmage, and his bad day began as soon as he stepped on the field. On three consecutive plays, he let a shotgun snap get past him, he overthrew a receiver, and he was stripped from behind by Rodney Paulk. Paulk, who added another sack later in the scrimmage, scooped up the fumble and returned it for a touchdown. A large part of Thompson's struggles were a result of the second team offensive line, which rarely gave him time to throw.

The offense finally moved the ball when the third teams took the field. Chris Smelley helmed the third string offense and rescued the squad from two third and long situations. He hit OJ Murdock deep en route to pick up 20 yards, and then connected with Murdock again on a short slant. Murdock broke a tackle and picked up 25 yards. Mike West made a nice catch on the sidelines for another 20 yards, and Noah Whiteside hauled in a short slant for the touchdown.

The starters came back in for the next drive and did not start well, as a 30-yard screen pass to Cory Boyd was called back for holding. On the next play, Mitchell's pass was deflected twice before winding up in the hands of Dakota Walker. Spurrier gave the offense another chance, and Mitchell capitalized. He hit Moe Brown with a nice pass, and Brown made an impressive run to gain 25 yards. On the next play, Mitchell connected with Kenny McKinley on a fade route for a 35-yard gain. From the 10 yard line, Mitchell checked down to a wide open Lanard Stafford, who bowled his way into the end zone.

On the next drive, Cade Thompson dumped a pass off to Bobby Wallace, and Wallace followed a crushing block from Noah Whiteside to scoot upfield for 35 yards. Thompson moved the team well, but once again the defense came up with a big sack to stall the drive. Ryan Succop stepped in and nailed a 50-yard field goal.

Smelley struggled to start the next drive, as he missed several receivers and fumbled the snap twice. Spurrier reset the downs, and Smelley took off. He hit walk-on Marquise Brown for 18 yards, then scrambled away from pressure and dumped the ball off to Taylor Rank. Rank took the pass and turned upfield, shaking defenders and taking the ball in for a 50-yard touchdown.

Following that series, the team worked on punting. Succop punted three times: for 40 yards, a beautiful 45 yarder, and then a low 38-yard punt. Freshman walk-on Spencer Lanning boomed a high, hanging 45-yard punt. All four punts were fair caught.

Following the special teams work, Brett Nichols led the second team offense onto the field. He was sacked both times he dropped back to pass. Wallace helped him out with a 15 yard run on a draw play. Then Nichols split out wide, and Syvelle Newton lined up in the shotgun. He took the snap, faked a handoff to Wallace, and juked his way to a 16-yard gain, jumping up after the play. On the next play, he handed off to Wallace who scooted in for a 10-yard touchdown.

Afterward, Newton said, "I probably jumped up like that because the last time I went down […] I went down and I couldn't get up. Now I feel like after I make a good run or a good play I have to hop up to let everyone know I'm all right." Spurrier marveled over Newton's run, "How about that play that he made? Shoot he juked about four guys. When he gets the ball in his hand, he's a different guy." Spurrier also joked about the following play, when Newton handed off to Wallace. "On the last one I said, ‘Syvelle, everybody knows you're going to run it, so give it to Bobby.' He had about four of them chasing him on that play." Newton said, "You could hear the whole defense saying, ‘Watch the run! Syvelle's going to run the ball.'"

The starters came in for the next series, going in from the 25. Mitchell wasted no time finding All-American Sidney Rice for a 25-yard touchdown strike. One of the standouts from fall practice, Captain Munnerlyn, had good coverage on the play, however, at 5'9", he is at a distinct disadvantage covering the 6'4" Rice. "That was a nice throw Blake made. He actually changed the protection," Spurrier beamed. "That was smart. He couldn't do that a year ago."

The starters stayed on the field for the next series. Mitchell dumped the ball off to Boyd on a screen pass that picked up 20 yards. However, on the next three plays, Boyd was unable to drive the ball in from the five-yard line. The line failed to open any holes, and when there was a slight opening, a defender quickly filled it. The offense settled for a 20-yard Charlie Carpenter field goal. Afterward, Boyd expressed disappointment with how he ran the ball. "I'm not satisfied. I'm never satisfied with what I do. I know I have a lot of things to improve on. I've got to get in the habit of running a little better, a little harder. I've got to get back to my usual self: reading the blocks and getting the cuts correctly and turning on the speed and making the big plays." Boyd also acknowledged that, as a team, the offense is not where it needs to be, saying, "As a collective group we've still got a lot of things to improve on." On the other hand, Boyd did have some good news. "The hand is good," he said. "I had a nice little protective pad on it. Once my adrenaline got going I really didn't pay it too much attention."

For the next series, Smelley replaced Thompson as the second string quarterback. Once again starting on the 25, Smelley and Murdock hooked up for the prettiest play of the scrimmage. Murdock ran a deep post, and Smelley threw a perfect strike for the touchdown. Munnerlyn had good coverage on the play, but the pass was perfectly placed. Spurrier was understandably pleased to see that hookup.

"Chris threw the ball around pretty well. He's got a knack, it seems like when he gets in the little scrimmages the ball goes down the field. He made a couple of 3rd-and-10's there in his first drive and went on and scored. He's getting close to knowing what to do." He also had strong words, both positive and negative, for Murdock. "OJ Murdock comes out here and makes plays. He's not very good in the weight room and the summer workouts, but if he can catch the ball and make some plays and help us, maybe that will overcome some of his shortcomings."

Thompson returned to the field with the third team offense, but he fumbled another shotgun snap and was unable to move the chains. The kickers then attempted a series of a 47-yard field goals. Succop missed wide right, and Carpenter was five yards short, but Thomas Hooper's attempt went through the uprights. They ran one more series, which again went nowhere. After being picked on, Munnerlyn finally came up with a pick on the 1-yard line, while covering Marquise Brown. After the ball was reset, the offense did nothing, and Succop hit a 37-yard field goal to conclude the scrimmage.

Spurrier noted after practice that he has been pleased with his kickers. "They've been kicking a lot better this year," he said. "They worked this summer, so it seems to be paying off right now." Spurrier also was pleasantly surprised by the play of Marquise Brown. "Marquise Brown, a walk-on, made several [catches] here and there. It was good to see some of those kids step in there and make some catches." Spurrier also talked about why the freshmen are able to compete so well at an early stage. "Most of them invested some time this summer on their own to learn the offense, to meet with the older guys, to watch some tape, and we'd give them some information to take home. I think we've got a group of guys that are not going to flunk out or get in bad trouble. We should be able to keep these guys and add another strong recruiting class, and hopefully be up there some day."

The biggest news from the scrimmage came after practice, when Spurrier came close to naming Smelley the #2 quarterback. When asked if Smelley would be the backup, Spurrier paused, thought for a moment, and then said, "We don't have to worry about that now." When asked when a decision would be made, he said slyly, "When? Time will tell. Obviously Blake is way ahead of all the other guys knowledge-wise. Blake is where he can make some audibles now." When Sidney Rice was asked about Smelley's performance in the scrimmage, he said, "He did a tremendous job. He's always doing what coach tells him to do in practice, and he came out here, scrambled around a little bit, and hit a couple passes here and there. He did real well. I feel confident in all the quarterbacks. They all do a real good job listening to coach."

The players appreciated the fans that came out to see the scrimmage. "Getting a chance to get back in front of the fans, just to hear them and be out there with my teammates going hard against each other, that felt real great to me," said Newton. Boyd said he was pleasantly surprised with the turnout. "I'm surprised we had a lot of support out here today. It was kind of wet and muggy out here, but I'm glad we had some support out here. It's always fun to have somebody out here watching you playing. It gives you more strength. You go out here and do exactly what you want to do and you've got somebody to root you on instead of just your teammates. It's very encouraging to see that."

Notes: Gerrod Sinclair, Douglas Peterson, Leon Gamble, Brandon Isaac, and Clark Gaston all sat out practice in yellow jerseys. Mike Davis was in a garnet jersey, but did not practice or wear pads. He did some running on the sidelines. Tommy Beecher dressed but did not practice as he continues to sit out with a sprained thumb. He was wearing a plastic splint on his hand the seemed to keep him from using the hand. Andy Boyd suffered a shoulder injury, during the scrimmage, and Mike West had a hamstring injury. Neither is expected to be serious. Nitron Stork was seen limping on one play when he was beat in coverage, but it appeared to be his pride that was injured, as he continued to play. Ty Erving missed the scrimmage due to the death of a friend, but he is expected to return in a day or two. When asked if Rice had dropped any passes in practice, Spurrier replied, "One or so. He doesn't miss many."



Mitchell 9-12, 147 yards 2 TD, INT

Thompson 6-14, 55 yards, INT

Smelley 10-17, 173 yards 3 td


Boyd 6-7 yards

Rank 1-(-1) yards

Wallace 7-31 yards, TD

Thompson 6-(-58) yards

Smelley 2-(-5) yards

Nichols 2-(-23) yards

Newton 1-16 yards

Stafford 2-5 yards


Rice 2-27 yards TD

McKinley 1-33 yards

Cook 1-18 yards

Murdock 3-69 yards TD

West 1-20 yards

Whiteside 3-23 yards TD

Boyd 3-35 yards

Wallace 3-32 yards

Rank 2-47 yards TD

Brown (Moe/Marquise) 1-26 yards /2-26 yards

Haile 2-11 yards

Stafford 1-8 yards TD

Attendance: 4,500

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