Smelley to start, Garcia to play early

The mystery surrounding the Gamecocks all week was who would start at quarterback against UAB. Would it be Chris Smelley, who started the previous three games, or would it be Stephen Garcia, the hot shot redshirt freshman who was the gem of USC's 2007 recruiting class? Steve Spurrier finally laid the question to rest after practice on Thursday.

"Chris Smelley's going to start the game, and Stephen Garcia's going to be in there in the first quarter some time," he said. "Then we'll go from there. We'll be ready to play Saturday night, and we should be ready to play our best game of the year."

Spurrier had little else to say as he rushed off to host his weekly call in show. Questioned as to why Garcia will not be the starter, as many anticipated, Spurrier offered little explanation.

"He's not starting, but he's going to be in there early," Spurrier said. "He's going to get a chance to play. He's going to be in there early and we're going to play football and try to win the game."

Defensively, there was a pair of lineup changes on the board. Starting defensive end Jordin Lindsey is suspended for the game, and will be replaced as a starter by Clifton Geathers. Nathan Pepper will be the backup.

"Pepper will play both inside and outside, and he will be the fourth guy to come out and play end," said defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson.

The other change comes in freshman C.C. Whitlock. Whitlock began at wide receiver, but shifted to cornerback this week. Whitlock played cornerback in high school, so he has experience at the position, making the transition a little easier.

"He hasn't had but three days, but he knows how to play the technique," Johnson said. "But he doesn't know some of the defenses in which that technique comes. He's not totally prepared, but it may depend on how the circumstances of the game go. We'd certainly like to get him in there. He'd be the fourth or fifth guy depending on how we use Akeem [Auguste] at safety and some other things. I'm not sure how comfortable Shane [Beamer, cornerbacks coach] is with him right now and knowing all of our schemes."

The Blazers are seen as an ideal opponent against whom to get some kinks worked out, and Johnson did not totally dismiss that theory. As he listed his goals for the week, he began with, "The big thing is we need to win the ballgame." However, he continued to say that he will be measuring improvement in certain aspects of the defensive play.

"The two things that we're still not playing at the top level [are] we're not creating turnovers […] and we still need to play better run defense," he said. "That's two things we've got to improve no matter who we play. Teams either get better each week, or they stagnate and go backwards. Whether you're playing one of your conference rivals or you're playing UAB, you've got to get better as a football team and hopefully you get the win."

Once again, the defense will be charged with stopping a running quarterback. Unlike against Wofford, though, the defense will have to face a run-pass option more like that posed by Vanderbilt. UAB quarterback Joe Webb is leading the Blazers with 401 yards rushing and 900 yards passing.

"A running quarterback is a running quarterback," Johnson said. "Vandy had one and we held him to 17 yards, but he affected us. That little part [running] will carry over [from Wofford], but it's a totally different scheme, and the way they run the quarterback is different."

Webb's athleticism extends beyond the quarterback position. The junior played wide receiver at times during his first two seasons at UAB. Johnson is very familiar with Webb, having recruited him while still at Mississippi State. He still holds Webb in high regard.

"He only played a year or two of high school football, and he was under-recruited," Johnson said. "He's a tremendous athlete. We ended up not taking him because of his lack of experience, but I knew he was going to be a heck of a player if he stuck with it."

Sapp believes defense will only get better

Although his name has yet to appear in the starting lineup this year, middle linebacker Marvin Sapp has been a key contributor for Johnson's defensive unit. Playing behind Jasper Brinkley, Sapp is nonetheless tied with Brinkley for third on the team with 15 tackles. Also like Brinkley, though, Sapp has yet to force a turnover this season, an area that has become a point of emphasis for the defense.

"We've got players on the team that can create turnovers; we've just got to keep doing it," said Sapp. "We've got to have more awareness [with] the fumbles that we do cause. We've got to be aware and hold onto the ball when we intercept it. All these things I feel like we're really getting better at and we're going to get better at and we're going to be able to good things and create more turnovers."

Although the Gamecocks use a 4-2-5 scheme as their base defense, Johnson has frequently gone to a 3-3-5 look with success, specifically against Georgia. In that lineup, Sapp lines up as an outside linebacker. Carolina has excelled defensively in either scheme, a credit both to Johnson's coaching and to the effort shown by the players.

"Our guys, I think, really feel it this year," he said. "We're really trying to work together as a team. Coach Johnson has a great plan. Our scheme that we're playing in, guys really love it and we can fit into it. We really give a lot of effort in each game and there are very few loafs. I really feel like there is an energy this year that we're trying to accomplish things."

This week, the defense will have to prepare for a dangerous dual-threat quarterback. Joe Webb does not run out of the wingbone like Wofford's quarterbacks, but he still presents an unusual challenge for Sapp and the defense. Principally, he leads a more athletic unit than Wofford possessed.

"Everyone has great athletes, and they have great athletes, specifically their quarterback," said Sapp. "The kind of offense they run, it's effective. Of course this week we're going to be prepping ourselves learning how to defend their offense the best that we can. We're coming in with the approach that we're going to get better every week. That way we can prepare ourselves for this game and treat it just like any other game. They're a good team and they can move the ball."

Asked how the Gamecocks have to go about defending Webb, Sapp had a simple answer.

"We've just got to contain the dude," he said. "We've got to play our assignments, take the schemes that our coaches are preparing for us and contain the dude."

Sapp placed an importance on UAB not just because it is the next game, but because it is the last game before conference play starts in earnest. He acknowledged that Carolina is hoping to iron out a few wrinkles before taking on the meat of the schedule.

"I think it is important for us to focus and get our rhythm, our flow of the game," Sapp said. "I think we need to not stress out, just buckle down and focus and improve the things that we are going to be doing for the rest of the season."

The complete starting lineup on offense, as listed by Spurrier, is as follows:

LT – Jarriel King
LG – Jamon Meredith
OC – Garrett Anderson
RG – Terrence Campbell
RT – Justin Sorenson
WR – Joe Hills
WR – Jason Barnes
TE – Jared Cook
RB – Brian Maddox
FB – Pat DiMarco
QB – Chris Smelley

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