Smelley to start at QB against Tennessee

The Gamecocks went through their final practice on Thursday before this weekend's face off against Tennessee in a nationally televised game. The last time Carolina visited Knoxville, they came away with their first ever win at Neyland Stadium, and USC is hoping to have a similar outcome on Saturday night. Read inside for a full report on Thursday's workout.


Blake Mitchell was the starter for the 2005 victory in Knoxville, but Steve Spurrier announced Thursday that Mitchell will not get a chance to get win number two.

"There is a good chance Chris Smelley will [start]," Spurrier said. He then cautioned, "We haven't announced anything official yet. Statistically, he's our best quarterback. Our best games were Mississippi State and Kentucky [when Smelley started]. He needs to play a lot better than he did the last time. We've got Blake and Tommy Beecher ready to go, but in all likelihood we will give Smelley an opportunity and see if he can go the distance. Whoever starts it will have that opportunity [to finish]."

Spurrier emphasized that he has confidence in all three quarterbacks. Each quarterback has practiced well this week and is capable of playing. The difference comes down to game production, and Spurrier feels Smelley has shown the most in games this season.

"There is not a huge difference in practice, but Chris has played more," said Spurrier. "This is a big game, so in all likelihood we'll let him have a go at it."

Spurrier did not name a backup to Smelley, only confirming that it would be Beecher or Mitchell.

Spurrier also took a moment to reflect on his last trip to Knoxville, and the historic win for the Gamecocks. Kicker Josh Brown hit a game-winning, career long 49-yard field goal to give the Gamecocks a 16-15 win. In typical Spurrier fashion, he mostly remembered the mistakes.

"We didn't play all that great," he said, "fortunately Tennessee didn't play all that great either. We had a bunch of turnovers. Josh Brown made the biggest field goal of his life."

"We were very fortunate that night," he continued. "We've been fortunate this year, and it sort of all caught up with us last game, and we didn't play our best, didn't get many breaks and got beat. Simple as that."


Nix, defense aiming to stop Tennessee's ground game

The stat of the week is the number "2," as in the number of sacks Tennessee has given up this year. Tyrone Nix is charged with trying to add to that number, and he has an unexpected way of trying to do it. He wants to pressure the passer by stopping the run.

"You've got to get them in some passing situations and get them in some long yardage deals," explained Nix. "I think Tennessee is going to come out and run the ball on us, and do some different things. We just have to stop the run, and if we're fortunate to get them in some long yardage situations, then we'll mix it up. Sometimes we may blitz to see if we can [get back] there, but we're just trying to get our third down percentage [down] and continue to get off the field and get the ball back to our offense."

The key for the defense will be the play of the secondary. Carolina has the top-ranked pass defense in the country, and Nix is counting on them to continue to play well. If the secondary can hold its own with Tennessee's receivers, it will allow Nix to call plays designed to stop the run. Nix does not think the Gamecocks need to get sacks, they just need to put pressure on Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge.

"We're going to mix up our coverages, and we're not really concerned with sacks," he said. "We're just trying to keep them out of the endzone and get the ball back to our offense as quick as possible. I think the biggest thing is he's been pressured some, he's been hit some, but sacks [are] not the important factor in this ballgame."

Playing the run well will take away the key to Tennessee's strong offense. Nix thinks the Volunteers' scheme is designed to keep the offense balanced, so he wants to take that away.

"They're a well balanced team," said Nix. "I think their whole scheme is good. I think with the sacks, the offensive line is a big part of it, but in their scheme it's a little bit of everybody. Probably the biggest thing is they're staying out of long yardage situations. You don't get a lot of sacks when you're in third and medium or short."

Nix would probably be pleased if the Gamecocks are able to hold Tennessee to 15 points again. Like Spurrier, Nix was asked to reflect on the last game in Knoxville. His answer was a little different than Spurrier's.

"What do I remember about it? We won."


Notes:

- The Gamecocks will get linebacker Gerrod Sinclair (knee) and safety Stoney Woodson (hamstring) back this weekend. Both have practiced and should play.

- Linebacker Dustin Lindsey (knee) is unlikely to play. He returned to practice earlier in the week, but Nix said Lindsey has not been cleared to play.

- Spurrier said several players are likely to get some time at guard, as coaches continue to search for reliable starters.


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