Gamecocks work through Wednesday scrimmage

The cold front that drenched the Midlands Wednesday morning left fall-like temperatures in its wake, so it was only fitting that an estimated 5,000 football-starved fans came out to Williams-Brice Stadium to watch the Gamecocks scrimmage. What they saw was a mixed bag, as both sides of the ball alternately excelled and struggled. The end result had Steve Spurrier shaking his head in frustration.


The offense looked strong early, opening with a pair of scoring drives that featured some of the more experienced players and strong running by Brian Maddox. Thereafter, with the younger players getting the majority of the reps, the tables were turned and the defense got the better of the offense.

"Our quarterback play wasn't nearly as good as I hoped it would be," said Spurrier. "Hopefully it will get better. There were some good plays here and there, but overall it was a pretty sloppy offensive performance. Our quarterbacks and receivers didn't play very well, so hopefully we can get better."

The receiving corps was comprised primarily of freshmen and walk-ons, which went a long way toward explaining the struggles. The quarterbacks had no such excuses. Walk-on Zac Brindise threw one pass, but the rest of the time it was starter Tommy Beecher and backup Chris Smelley taking snaps.

"It was the young guys, but we had our two older quarterbacks play the whole time," Spurrier said, pointing a finger at his signal callers. "I thought we would move the ball better, but we didn't, so we have a lot of coaching to do, especially with our quarterbacks."

Even though he sounded fairly discouraged, Spurrier insisted that was not the case. There was no visor throwing or other displays of frustration as he insisted he was "understanding" of the struggles.

"That's why we do this," he said. "We didn't want to be perfect tonight. It was probably good for Tommy. He needs to understand that he hasn't done much yet. Chris Smelley did a few good things here and there tonight. He probably outgraded Tommy tonight, but Tommy's the starter and we'll go from there."

Smelley finished 5-10 passing for 85 yards and a pretty touchdown strike to Joe Hills. Beecher, on the other hand, had his share of the ups and downs. He led a pair of scoring drives, but also threw an interception to Chris Hail that was returned for a touchdown.

"Tommy hasn't played much at all, and I guess it was evident tonight he hasn't played much," explained Spurrier. "He got hung up and scrambled around and scrambled around, and you can't do that in our conference or in any conference, really. Hopefully we can coach him up better and get him ready in a couple of weeks."

Spurrier was able to find one bright spot from the scrimmage, and it came from an unlikely source.

"The offensive line was okay," he said. "It was pretty decent, actually. The pressure on the quarterbacks was not extreme. We had time to make decisions and get some guys open, and we didn't do it very well."

Given how much Carolina's offensive line has struggled in previous fall camps under Spurrier, "pretty decent" is a downright glowing compliment.


Beecher disappointed but not discouraged with scrimmage performance

Starting quarterback Tommy Beecher did not hear the harsh words Spurrier used to describe his performance in the scrimmage. It did not matter, though, as Beecher was even harder on himself when he talked to the media afterwards. Even though he was throwing toward inexperienced receivers who frequently ran the wrong route, Beecher made no excuses.

"Of course the quarterbacks like looking out there and seeing Kenny [McKinley] because he's a proven guy that's made big plays in games for us, but that's no excuse," Beecher said. "I've got to be able to perform with whoever's out there. I'm not making any excuses; it was completely my fault tonight."

Spurrier is notoriously hard on his quarterbacks, and he showed following the scrimmage that Beecher can expect the same treatment. Spurrier had pledged all summer that Beecher was the unquestioned starter, but Wednesday he slipped a little threat into his post-scrimmage comments.

"If he's going to play, he can't play like this," Spurrier said. "We've got to help him some, too. We can't watch what happened tonight all year. He's got to get better. That's why we practice. We practice to make mistakes and learn from them."

Beecher sounded unlikely to get too discouraged by Spurrier's threat. He knew he struggled during the scrimmage, and essentially echoed what Spurrier said, as Beecher admitted he did not play as well as a starter has to.

"I'll sleep it over tonight, and we'll watch the tape tomorrow and I'll get over it," he said. "I'm the starting quarterback right now, and people are depending on me. I'll push this out of the back of my head and just learn from it."

Beecher has shown a knack for making throws on the run and keeping plays alive with his mobility. That mobility was on show during the scrimmage, but for the wrong reasons. Beecher frequently scrambled away from pressure only to hold onto the ball too long as the play fell apart. He was lucky defenders were not allowed to touch the quarterback, as several times he scrambled right into the teeth of the pass rush.

"He seemed to get hung up and ran around too much; you've got to get rid of it," said Spurrier. "He knows where they all are, but his decision-making… He hasn't done a lot; he hasn't played a lot. That's why we left him out there and let him struggle. We'll see if he can learn from it and go from there. I'm glad it happened, and I hope he can learn from that."

Mere minutes after the scrimmage, Beecher was already learning. He knew he held the ball too long and failed to find the dump off receiver.

"I've got to get rid of the ball to the underneath guys," he said. "It was a rough night for me tonight, but I'll work hard to get better. We've still got two more weeks here before N.C. State. It's discouraging because I've had a pretty good camp so far, and I had a bad night tonight. I'll learn from my mistakes, and we'll get better."


Notes:

- The Gamecocks will practice at 3:00 p.m. Thursday afternoon. The practice is closed, but Spurrier will host his first call-in show of the season Thursday evening. They will scrimmage again on Saturday, and Spurrier indicated Wednesday that he may decide to open that scrimmage.

- Kicker Ryan Succop attempted a 55-yard field goal that was just short, bouncing off the crossbar. However the defense was offsides on the play, resulting in a first down, meaning it was not an "official" attempt.

- Running back Eric Baker suffered a minor concussion during the scrimmage, and was sidelined for the last few offensive possessions. By that point, all the other running backs were either out with injury or finished for the night, meaning fullback/tight end Pat DiMarco lined up at tailback for the last several possessions. Don't look for DiMarco to add tailback as a third position, though, as he was clearly ill-suited for the job. "We started with six running backs and we ended up with DiMarco," Spurrier laughed.

- A lone trumpeter played the fight song after each touchdown. After the first score, the other fans seemed confused to hear the song, but from then on, they enthusiastically clapped along.


Stats:

SCORING PLAYS:

Brian Maddox 2-yard run (Ryan Succop kick)
Nick Prochak 3-yard pass from Chris Smelley (Succop kick)
Chris Hail 45-yard interception return of Beecher pass
Joe Hills 25-yard pass from Smelley (Succop kick)
Jason Barnes 15-yard pass from Tommy Beecher

PASSING:

Tommy Beecher 15-30-1-123; Chris Smelley 5-10-0-85; Zac Brindise 0-1-0-0

RUSHING:

Brian Maddox 7-48; Kenny Miles 4-23; Eric Baker 6-12; Matt Clements 1-7; Chris Smelley 1-4; Patrick DiMarco 2-(-2); Tommy Beecher 6-(-4)

RECEIVING:

C.C. Whitlock 4-54; Patrick DiMarco 3-11; Jason Barnes 2-39; Stephen Flint 2-20; Moe Brown 2-13; Joe Hills 1-25; Jared Cook 1-12; Eric Baker 1-12; Yvan Banag 1-9; Kenny Miles 1-5; Paul Haile 1-5; Nick Prochak 1-3


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