Spurrier addresses QB and OL questions

With one game down, the Gamecocks turn their focus to the conference opener against Vanderbilt. Most seasons the Commodores would be seen as a tune-up for Georgia the following week, but after Vanderbilt's season-changing upset over Carolina last year, there are no shortage of storylines this week. The biggest among them are quarterback, the offensive line, and the defense.


After pitching a shutout against NC State, the defense would at first seem to be an area where the Gamecocks could feel confident. However, before his injury, Wolfpack quarterback Russell Wilson was able to find some creases in the Gamecock defense when he ran, an area in which Carolina has traditionally struggled.

Compounding matters, Vanderbilt quarterback Chris Nickson is an even more talented dual-threat quarterback than Wilson. Nickson rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in Vanderbilt's opener against Miami of Ohio. He added 91 yards and a touchdown on 9-16 passing in the 34-13 win.

"Our defense will be tested by the quarterback run, like we were last year," said Coach Steve Spurrier. "Hopefully we've made improvements, I hope we have. He ran around very well [last week]. He's a good runner, and he made some scramble plays. We'll try to make him a thrower and not let him run around too much. They only attempted 16 throws the other night, so they did most of their damage running the ball."

If problems stopping a dual threat quarterback sound like a familiar challenge, so will the next issue. This was supposed to be the year when the offensive line finally came together during fall camp and would be able to protect the quarterback and open running lanes from day one. Instead, the line struggled mightily against NC State for much of the game before coming together late in the contest. Worst of all, the line was called for four false start penalties (H-back Pat DiMarco was called for a fifth false start).

"The false starts are pitiful, and I know our fans are sick of the false starts as much I am, and [offensive line coach John] Hunt, and all the coaches," Spurrier said. "We do a little extra running with those guys. Coach Hunt makes them do up-downs after practice and stuff like that. It happens more at home than on the road, so I was asking Coach Hunt, ‘Do you think these guys would be better off if we went on the foot at home?' and he said no. They can hear, they just don't want to hear, they want to guess, I guess. Maybe we have to go on the foot at home, we'll wait and see."

Lastly, it would not be a Steve Spurrier-coached team without a quarterback controversy. Spurrier spent all summer saying that Tommy Beecher would be the man, and Beecher made good on that confidence with an excellent fall camp. When the lights came on, however, Beecher struggled. Spurrier stuck with the junior signal caller until Beecher suffered a left (non-throwing) shoulder injury in the third quarter against NC State. At that point, backup Chris Smelley came in and led three touchdown drives, completing all five of his passes and tossing a pair of touchdowns. Spurrier did not name a starter on Sunday, saying the decision would depend in part on when Beecher returns to practice.

"We'll announce later in the week, but right now, Tommy was not even at practice yesterday," said Spurrier. "The trainers think he will definitely be ready by Thursday night. We'll see how practice goes this week and announce something Wednesday or so. We don't have anything written down about [when Beecher has to return to practice]. Obviously if he can't practice much, he's not going to be the starter.]"

Spurrier went on to say that, even if Beecher does start against Vanderbilt, it is obvious that the Gamecocks will need two quarterbacks to be successful this season. He stated explicitly, though, that he did not mean he would be alternating quarterbacks, but that due to injury it is unrealistic to expect one player to go the entire season.

"It appears that we're probably going to need two quarterbacks," he said. "Guys get hit all the time. We'll just see how the season goes, that's all you can do. We're going to have to have two quarterbacks to maximize our talent this year."

Spurrier said as much on Saturday, but reiterated on Sunday that redshirt freshman Stephan Garcia is not part of the quarterback rotation. Garcia has flashed some talent in practice, and Beecher's injury has elevated Garcia to the second team, but Garcia is still not yet ready to compete on an SEC level. In the Gamecocks' final preseason scrimmage, Garcia went 0-5 with two interceptions, but he has improved since then.

"Stephen got some practice time yesterday," said Spurrier. "We let the guys who didn't play in the game scrimmage a little bit. He threw some good ones. He looked better than he's been looking: he only threw one pick."

When these two teams met last season, the Gamecocks were ranked 6th in the nation but came out unprepared for the Commodores. Vanderbilt jumped out to a quick 17-0 lead and allowed only a pair of field goals the rest of the way. The Gamecocks are loathe to admit they overlooked Vanderbilt last season, but they acknowledge there is no chance they look past the Commodores this season, even with top ranked Georgia the next opponent. Vanderbilt has the respect and admiration of all the Gamecocks this season.

"Vandy, you talk about losing some heartbreakers, they've lost more than we have," said Spurrier, referring to recent close losses to Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. "Vandy's been a good team. They've been there with a lot of teams, without winning. They are very capable. Hopefully, they get started in about two weeks. I think we all admire the coaches and Vanderbilt. The whole country probably pulls for Vanderbilt a lot."


Notes:

- Thursday figures to be a record-breaking day for Kenny McKinley, and a big game could lead to another record falling. McKinley has caught a pass in 34 straight games, tied with Sterling Sharpe and Jermale Kelly for most in Carolina history. It will only take one catch to set that record, but if McKinley hauls in ten more, he would set another record. McKinley's 159 career receptions are only ten back of Sharpe's Gamecock-high 169 receptions (Zola Davis is in between the two with 164 career catches). In other categories, McKinley needs 322 yards to become the career leader in receiving yards, nine touchdowns for the career lead in receiving scores, and six 100-yard receiving games for the career lead in that category. McKinley had four catches for 79 yards against Vanderbilt last season.

- Cliff Matthews left the NC State game briefly with a shoulder injury, but is fully healthy. Spurrier identified the injury as a stinger, and said Matthews has not required any treatment on the shoulder.

- Taylor Rank and Mike Davis are listed as co-starters on the depth chart, but Spurrier said that he expects Davis to get the start against Vanderbilt. "I would imagine that Mike's probably earned the starting position there," Spurrier said.

- After tweaking Clemson and the ACC for being a weaker conference this offseason, Spurrier declined to say anything about the Tigers' 34-10 rout at the hands of Alabama. "I probably shouldn't comment on that," he smiled.


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