Smelley to start at QB, Garcia to play

Just two days before taking on the number two team in the country, the last thing the underdog Gamecocks needed was a distraction. But that is just what they got Thursday afternoon. Several players were involved in a fight while eating lunch. That altercation overshadowed much of what else went on at practice, including naming a starting quarterback and left tackle.

A source told that a Benedict College student approached a Gamecock football player and instigated the incident. The football players involved were Antonio Allen, Akeem Auguste, Terrence Campbell, Melvin Ingram, and C.C. Whitlock, and none reported any injuries. After practice, Steve Spurrier and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson both said the incident was an issue for university police, not the coaches.

"I wasn't there, but I'm sure our university police will handle it," Spurrier said. "You need to call the university police and ask them what happened. I've just heard secondhand reports that there was a little fracas and a little tussle between some people we don't know and some of our football players. We'll let the police and university tell us what happened and what we need to do."

"I know very, very little about it," said Johnson. "The only thing I think I know about is we were victims. Nothing's been shared with us officially at all."

Turning to on the field news, Spurrier finally named a starting quarterback after practice on Thursday. The decision was not much of a surprise, as it appeared all week Chris Smelley would get the nod. The real surprise was not that Spurrier confirmed Smelley would start, but that he intends to use freshman Stephen Garcia for several plays.

"Chris Smelley's going to start the game, and he may go the distance this week," said Spurrier. "He seems to be physically, mentally, ready to play a little bit better than all the other guys."

The backup to Smelley will be either Tommy Beecher or Garcia. Beecher is still bothered by a sore left shoulder, and he will be a game time decision. If he cannot play, Garcia will be the backup, though even if he is the third quarterback, Garcia will play.

"We might as well put him in for a couple plays here and there," Spurrier said. "We'll see what happens. We'll have just a couple plays [for Garcia]."

The coaches also made a lineup decision on the offensive line, where two-year starter Jamon Meredith returns from a two game suspension. Meredith will replace Jarriel King at left tackle to begin the game, but King is still expected to play.

"Jarriel will come in there and [Meredith] will slide over to guard or he may come out of the game," Spurrier said. "He's not playing a whole lot better than our other guys. I wish he was."

Johnson pleased with defense's strong week of practice

The Gamecocks will bring the top rated defense in the SEC into the game against the Bulldogs, but they will be facing no shortage of firepower on the other side. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is being touted as a possible top draft pick in next year's NFL draft, and running back Knowshon Moreno is a Heisman Trophy candidate. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was effusive in his praise for Moreno.

"The thing I love about Moreno, except having to play him, there is not a more intense football player I've watched on film," said Johnson. "He's obviously talented, but there's a lot of those in this league. He blocks with a passion, he runs play fakes with a passion, and he runs pass routes with a passion."

It may seem odd that Carolina has the highest rated defense in the conference given that the unit was unable to get off the field in the fourth quarter in the loss to Vanderbilt. However, the Gamecocks virtually shut down Vanderbilt for three quarters, and it was crucial mistakes in the fourth that allowed the Commodores to move the ball. Johnson is not ready to panic over the mistakes, but the onus is on the players to prove his trust is well-earned.

"We played extremely well except for a couple of critical times in the game," he said, "and I want to make sure it's proven to me that that wasn't a poise factor: a lack of discipline or a lack of intensity. It looked to me like what we did was lost our concentration. It wasn't a bunch of quitting or laziness, it was a lot of overplaying."

One thing that has been lacking from the defense is impact play from middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley. Expected to be a potential all-conference player, Brinkley has just 3 tackles in the first two games. Because of class obligations, Brinkley misses team meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Johnsons acknowledged that missing those meetings makes things difficult for Brinkley, but said the real issue is the playing time Brinkley missed in the fall due to a heel injury.

"It's really been missed practice time," Johnson said. "He started out with a good camp, and then he tweaked that ligament in his heel, and all of a sudden he was out nine or ten practices. It really did get him behind, and I think not being comfortable mentally has made him not comfortable physically. We're not going to be patient, but we're going to be understanding, we know what it is."

Given all the challenges the defense will face this weekend, Johnson thinks his unit is ready to play. They are healthy, playing with effort, and have shown intensity and desire in practice following the Vanderbilt loss.

"We've had a very good week," said Johnson. "They were a little bit in the tank Monday, but I'm glad. I think they know we let a game get by that we should have won. Tuesday was very good. We've had a good preparation. We can't have had any better preparation that we had under the circumstances."

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