Analysis: Where Does USC Go From Here?

Fifteenth-ranked South Carolina's comeback Saturday night fell fall short of victory over Tennessee. How will it affect the remaining three games? Blake Mitchell and his Gamecocks will have to wait until next week to see if breaking an eight quarter streak without a touchdown, scoring 24 points in one half and turning a laugher into an overtime 27-24 heart stopper will produce any more wins.

Someone in the Gamecock locker room Saturday night in Knoxville must have thought of the North Carolina comeback from a 21-0 halftime deficit in which South Carolina survived a second half rally to win 21-15. USC's "almost" was keyed by the senior from Lagrange, Georgia, who came off the bench in the second quarter to complete 31-45 for 290 yards and a fourth quarter game tying touchdown pass- but Mitchell did not lead his team to victory.

Mitchell's description of USC's first touchdowns since the first half of the North Carolina game on October 13 was simple: "It's taking what they gave us. I think we did a decent job of that."

Carolina's offensive line, which gave up one first half sack of Chris Smelley, gave up none in the second half of Mitchell and moved the Volunteer defensive line around the entire second half. Senior running back Cory Boyd gained 160 yards on 20 carries, with 95 yards on 11 rushes coming in the second half, including a 29 yard scoring jaunt late in the third quarter.

"We ran the ball pretty well, the offensive line blocked .We shot ourselves in the foot a lot tonight, especially in the first half. We just kind of' stopped ourselves."

The much criticized offensive line helped prove USC Head Coach Steve Spurrier was wrong. Spurrier hoped mid week for a close, low scoring game with Tennessee because he did not expect Carolina to gain 500 yards total offense – they gained 501 yards and gave up just one first half sack after giving up seven to Vanderbilt.

Mitchell gave the line credit in the comeback. "They did a good job, they fought hard, and that's all we ask of them, to just go up there and fight as hard as they can and give us a little bit of time and we'll get the ball off."

Mitchell showed more zip on his passes than Smelley and several times avoided the Tennessee rush to find open receivers, especially in the second half.

Tennessee ranked near the bottom of nearly every SEC passing defense category, but Deangelo Willingham forced a Freddie Brown fumble off a short completion that fellow defensive back Eric Berry returned 52 yards inside the Carolina 5 yard line to set up the Vols' first score.

Starting quarterback Chris Smelly later threw an interception and finished 3-5 for 40 yards before Mitchell replaced him to start the second quarter.

Mitchell was steady throughout the game until late, when he overthrew an open receiver for a first down late in the fourth quarter, but has had an erratic career. He played as a sophomore in 2005, began 2006 as the starter, was replaced by Syvelle Newton and then took back the starting spot for the rest of the season against Arkansas. This season, he was benched for the opener for disciplinary infractions, started the road win over Georgia in game two and by game four was replaced by Smelly, riding the bench until some spot duty against Vanderbilt last Saturday.

Mitchell is the only USC quarterback to defeat Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Clemson, all under Spurrier. While during the week Spurrier pointed out the opportunity to repeat 2005 and defeat The Vols, Razorbacks and Gators in one three game stretch this season, Mitchell's performance and improved offensive line play still came up at least one score short against Tennessee and at least one game short on "repeat road."

As for next week Mitchell says he, and the offense needs to "come back strong. Got to. We showed we could come back from being down. We just gotta go up there (Fayetteville) and learn to finish."

"We just need to continue making plays and just keep putting things together, "said Mitchell. The season, and Mitchell's USC career, now has just three regular season games remaining. Whether Mitchell and the offensive line continue their solid and improved performance may determine the memories of this now 6-3 team that had an SEC East title as a goal and now needs to beat both Arkansas on the road and Florida at home, and count on UT losing two of their last three SEC games, for the Gamecocks to have a shot at playing in the SEC Title game. Mitchell and the Gamecocks will have to do it again to have a chance. That would be a comeback and produce a season to remember.

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