Benching quarterbacks

Steve Spurrier changes quarterbacks the way some guys change hairstyles ... whenever the mood strikes him.

Most coaches believe benching a quarterback undermines his confidence. Never hesitant to swim against the tide, South Carolina's head man contends that yanking a QB tends to bring out the best in him.

"It's my experience coaching quarterbacks (that) once you bench them, they come back a better player," Spurrier said at SEC Media Days earlier this week.

Apparently, Spurrier wasn't watching Tennessee in 2005, when the Vol staff benched both Erik Ainge and Rick Clausen with disastrous results.

Regardless, Spurrier is pinning his hopes for 2007 on senior quarterback Blake Mitchell, a guy he has benched several times during his Gamecock career ... including last fall.

After conceding that Mitchell has "started two years, off and on," Spurrier explained that a weak offensive line forced the QB change in 2006.

"Realistically, our offensive line was not good at all the first couple of games – Mississippi State and Georgia," the Ol' Ball Coach said. "We felt we needed to put Syvelle (Newton) in there just to run around, to dodge the pass rush. That's what he did, and he really helped us."

The Gamecock blocking front improved as the season wore on, so Spurrier eventually yanked Newton and put Mitchell behind center again. Mitchell made the most of his second chance, playing exceptionally well down the stretch.

"Blake's the kind of quarterback that needs a running game and needs pass protection," Spurrier said. "When those two things happen he can be very productive."

Indeed. After six games as a little-used backup, Mitchell got to start the second half of Game 9 against Arkansas. He responded by completing 15 of 21 throws for 213 yards and two touchdowns, nearly rallying the Gamecocks to victory. He completed 24 of 33 for 275 yards in a one-point loss to Florida, then threw for a season-high 388 yards and four touchdowns against Middle Tennessee.

Closing with a flourish, Mitchell passed for 268 yards in the regular-season finale vs. Clemson, then earned Liberty Bowl MVP honors by passing for 323 yards and four touchdowns against Houston.

During those final 4½ games, Mitchell completed 69.4 percent of his passes for 1,467 yards and 10 TDs. Those are pretty imposing numbers for a guy who spent half of the season on the sidelines. Spurrier defends his decision to bench Mitchell by noting that he did the same thing to Rex Grossman during his days as head man at Florida.

"In 2000, the last year we won the SEC, I actually benched him the Georgia game and also the South Carolina game," Spurrier recalled. "Then we'd bring him back, and he'd be a lot better after you benched him a little bit. I'm hoping that's what happens to Blake.... Hopefully, he will have a really big year for us."

Mitchell had better have a big year because his coach already is on record saying that South Carolina is ready to contend for the SEC championship this fall.

"He's very capable," Spurrier said. "He's capable of taking us a long way."

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