Is Syvelle the Answer at Quarterback?

After three games into the 2006 football season, South Carolina' offense has yet to have a touchdown pass thrown by a quarterback under center. Questions are sure to abound among Gamecock faithful after a narrow win over Wofford, a Division1-AA opponent. Coach Spurrier has already named Syvelle Newton the starter for next week's game, but is Syvelle the answer?

Syvelle Newton started the Wofford game after not playing as the starting quarterback in almost two seasons. South Carolina narrowly escaped with a 27-20 win over the smallest school to play 1-AA football in America. Newton himself questioned whether he was the answer to USC's offensive woes. When told by the media that Spurrier had announced that he would again be the starter in next week's game, Newton said, "He hasn't told me that. When I get a chance, maybe we'll sit down and talk about it, maybe after the game. I thought about it. Maybe I'm not made to be an every down quarterback. You never know. I thought about that myself maybe I'm not meant to be that."

"It felt great in the beginning of the game, getting to run around and make plays again, do things a lot of people can't really do just getting a chance to do that again." Newton said. "I felt great, but after halftime I started getting that little vibe like, ‘Am I really playing quarterback? I'm really tired. I ain't been this tired in two years. This is my first time playing it in a while, and playing quarterback in college football is kind of confusing, you got be an athlete and you gotta be pretty smart to do it."

Spurrier however, made it clear that under the present circumstances when the USC offensive line is providing such poor protection for the quarterback, that he felt Newton is the best option available. "In all likelihood, Syvelle's gonna start. Why? Because he can make plays with the pass protection we've got." He said. "That's one reason, and I think he's got a chance this week when he takes his steps and lets it go a little sooner - he was hesitant tonight. Gosh, he hasn't played quarterback in… - and he's never played in this kind of a system. But he's capable. Now, whether or not he can take his steps and let it go - he sort of aimed the one that got tipped off - he aimed it and looked at him and the linebacker made a nice play on it. So, he's got to get out of doing that, but he can make the throws. I just wish he could have thrown 40 passes tonight. But, heck, we were over there watching most of the night because we couldn't get Wofford off the field."

Blake Mitchell, the starting quarterback all of last season and for the first two games this year, will return after a one-game suspension for next week's contest against Florida Atlantic. Mitchell is a drop back type of quarterback like those traditionally used in the Spurrier system, but he is not known for his scrambling ability, like Newton. Spurrier said, "So, if Blake had played today, I don't know if we could have got all them scramble plays."

Newton also referenced Mitchell's return. "We're going to get Blake back next week. That'll probably make it more interesting." He said. "I felt this game was just a chance for people to see maybe us as a unit… maybe it's not Blake. I feel Blake is a great quarterback. I feel he'll come back next week or the next week and lead us to a great game against Auburn. He's a great quarterback."

Newton also had praise for the younger quarterbacks on the team. "I kind of found out I was going to start in the middle of the week. We kind of just kept it down. One of those guys could have come in and started. Cade had a great week, and Chris Smelley had a great week. Those guys are two great quarterbacks."

Fans were surprised when Smelley, who had played a backup role and played in the first two games, did not make an appearance in the Wofford game. Redshirt freshman Cade Thompson, who was beaten out in fall practice for the #2 spot by Smelley, did come in for his first appearance in a game for one play. Newton was asked about Thompson's appearance. "Cade, he practiced more at quarterback than I did, and it was like third and long," he said. "Coach probably felt like he had a better chance of making the read than I did. I respect that. Cade can throw the ball just like any other. He was put in the game with a chance to play."

Spurrier said, "Cade - I thought maybe he could hit a little seam out there - Syvelle - he hasn't done this - you gotta be fair to him - he was hesitant on letting it go, and he's never really played quarterback where you go back, take your steps, and let it go. So I thought maybe Cade could zip one in there and we could make the first down and win the game, but we sent a guy in motion before the receivers were set - I saw it - and we're not smart enough to get set first and send him in motion. So even if we'd hit that one down the boundary or wherever, it would have come back. But Cade - he hadn't had a chance - I figured I'd just give him a chance, you know."

Newton was recruited by former USC Coach Lou Holtz to play in a radically different style offense than the one run by current coach Steve Spurrier. Newton commented on the difference in style: "I've never been a pocket passer in my life. That's just what the system is, just the type of offense we run. If I'm going to play quarterback then I'm going to have to get used to it that every play is going to be a big adjustment. Tonight was just a chance for me to go out and do it live for the first time in my career."

Newton spent much of the night scrambling out of the pocket when the protection from the offensive line collapsed. When asked if he thinks he'll make a big improvement after having a full game under his belt in this system, Newton replied, "Next week if I'm still playing quarterback, I got all the jitterbugs out. I can probably be a little bit more composed."

Spurrier also talked about the line play. "We couldn't block their guys. Their guys are pretty damn good up front," he said. "I don't know if they blocked any better than the guys last week. We had pressure on Syvelle throughout the first half. He'd run around and make something happen. But you know you play 2 freshmen - I would hope they could block those Wofford kids - but we struggled, we struggled blocking them. They played tough - the Wofford kids - a lot of them played well enough to win, they really did."

USC certainly has more options at quarterback this year than they have had in a long time. Fans only have to think back to last year's game with Auburn when Blake Mitchell missed the game due to injury and backup Antonio Heffner was forced to play the entire game because there were no other options at quarterback. Coach Spurrier has named Newton as the best solution for a team that currently struggles to protect the quarterback. He is ably backed up by a proven commodity in Mitchell, who was the starting quarterback in South Carolina's school record streak of six straight SEC wins. And freshmen Smelley and Thompson are not only the team's future, but may make solid contributions under center before this season is over.

Spurrier is known for his tell-it-like-it-is assessments of his teams. "Again, I don't know what to tell the fans today. I think we tried as hard as we could. Maybe we're just not very good right now," he said. But Spurrier immediately followed that with an optimistic thought: "But I still think we have a chance to be."

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