Mitchell Continues Stellar Play Against MTSU

Needing a sixth win to become bowl eligible before heading into the Clemson game, the Gamecocks came up big against Middle Tennessee. The win was a total team effort, with a number of players stepping up, but no player came up bigger than quarterback Blake Mitchell.

Mitchell passed for a career-high 388 yards and 4 touchdowns. He completed 21-28 passes with no interceptions. The yardage is the seventh most ever for a Gamecock player and came in just three quarters of work. All of this from a player who three weeks ago did not know when he would attempt his next pass.

Steve Spurrier suggested that the time on the bench may have helped Mitchell make better decisions. "He came back maybe not as worried," Spurrier explained. "Sometimes being a QB and coming off the bench, it is easier when the first guy is not playing well and the coach says ‘get in there.' You figure, ‘I can't do any worse than the other guy that has been in there.'"

Mitchell is not quite as sure that he benefited from the time on the sidelines. "I just tried my best to stay focused on the sidelines and be prepared for another shot," he said. "Two weeks ago I didn't feel good about things. I knew I had a chance, but I wasn't feeling great. I got my second chance, I tried to make the best of it and make the best decisions I can, because I know that things can change."

Mitchell prefers to deflect praise over his "improvement" to his teammates, especially the offensive line. "They're doing better and better," he said. "They keep giving me time to get rid of it, and that results in some good plays. It's always good to have confidence when you go back there. You're definitely going to get hit some of the time, but I've got confidence in the guys up front." That confidence allows him to focus on his playmakers, which he bragged about after the game. "Those guys made great plays," Mitchell beamed. "Kenny [McKinley] and Sidney [Rice] made good catches."

As for his own performance, Mitchell struggled to focus on the positives. After the game he seemed concerned primarily with a play at the end of the first half. With the Gamecocks trying to add a score right before halftime, Mitchell looked left and threw the ball right to Middle Tennessee defensive back Roy Polite. The ball bounced off Polite's pads, allowing Mitchell to breathe a sigh of relief. "I had one there today that should have been an interception," Mitchell recalled, "but luckily the guy dropped it. That was probably the worst pass of the day. I had a few bad decisions." Then Mitchell dropped an old cliché, but one that normally comes after a poor performance. "We got a win, and that's all that matters," he said. "I missed some passes here and there. It definitely could have been a lot better."

Mitchell finally allowed that he had played a good game. "I played a pretty decent game out there," he said. "It helps my confidence that much more. Things are just clicking, and I'm seeing things better. I'm just trying to make the right decision. I feel a lot more confident now than I did last year. Things are going well for the offense right now."

It did not take long for the focus to turn toward Clemson. Like many of the players, Mitchell was reluctant to say much about the Tigers immediately following the game. He did talk about the importance of maintaining his composure in a game where emotions run high. "I know it is a big rivalry game for most people, but I just try to take it as another game. It is a big game, and everybody knows it's a big game, but you don't want to come out too up. You've just got to take every game as another game. We want to come up there and play well, not make many mistakes, keep ourselves in the ballgame and give ourselves a chance to win."

After the game, Spurrier mentioned that one of his goals for the team next year will be to compete for the SEC Championship. With Mitchell likely to be the leader of that team, he was asked if he thought that was a reasonable goal. "You want to get better every year," he said. "Next year we've got a lot of guys returning, so we just need to finish up strong this season and carry it over to next year. We've got the players [to compete on a championship level]. If we can come together as a team, play well, and quit making some of the mistakes we've been making, who knows, we might have a shot."

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