Time For A Change
South Carolina was sluggish offensively and couldn't seem to do much right in its season opener - until Chris Smelley came in at quarterback in the fourth quarter.
After an outstanding performance in relief last week, Smelley will get the start Thursday night in the No. 24 Gamecocks' SEC opener at Vanderbilt, which defeated Smelley and South Carolina last year.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made South Carolina -10 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 60% of bets for this game have been placed on South Carolina -10 (View College Football bet percentages).
Coach Steve Spurrier had said since April that Tommy Beecher would have the chance to "go the distance" as the Gamecocks' starting quarterback, but that decision didn't last long.
In South Carolina's 34-0 win over North Carolina State last Thursday, Beecher threw four interceptions and was removed before the start of the fourth quarter because of injury.
Smelley entered and completed all five of his passes - two for touchdowns - and led the Gamecocks on three drives that ended in TDs. The sophomore, who started six games last season, looked smooth and confident as he connected on scoring passes of 20 yards to Dion LeCorn and 13 yards to Jared Cook.
Smelley's outstanding play help South Carolina to a victory that moved it into the Top 25.
"I went out there and gave it everything I had,'' Smelley said.
Spurrier decided to go with Smelley for the SEC opener after Beecher couldn't practice Monday because he couldn't lift his non-throwing shoulder. Spurrier, known for impulsive quarterback swaps, had said Smelley probably would have started even if Beecher was not injured.
It may not matter which quarterback plays, however, if the offensive line doesn't improve from last week. South Carolina was called for four false starts and a holding penalty, and allowed five sacks.
"Defensively Vandy's a very good team," Spurrier said. "We've got to execute, protect the quarterback. We're looking forward to see if we can improve."
Smelley found out just how good Vanderbilt's defense is in South Carolina's 17-6 home loss the Commodores on Oct. 20. He was 14-of-24 for 154 yards, no touchdowns and a career-high two interceptions before being pulled. South Carolina quarterbacks were sacked seven times in the game.
The Gamecocks were also limited to 26 rushing yards on 22 attempts as their seven-game winning streak over Vanderbilt was snapped.
South Carolina senior Mike Davis ran for 16 yards on six attempts against the Commodores last season, but he got off to a solid start to 2008 by rushing 14 times for 101 yards and a touchdown.
The Gamecocks' defense, headed by new coordinator Ellis Johnson, was also sharp in last Thursday's opener. The unit helped South Carolina overcome four turnovers by the offense as it recorded its first shutout since beating Mississippi State 15-0 on Aug. 31, 2006.
South Carolina, which had the conference's fourth-worst defense last year at 378.1 yards per game, limited the Wolfpack to 138 total yards and 10 first downs while forcing four turnovers.
"I thought we played OK. It's not time to start breaking out the champagne or anything,'' Johnson said.
The Gamecocks should receive a much tougher test from Vanderbilt, which amassed 360 yards of offense in last Thursday's 34-13 victory over Miami of Ohio.
Commodores senior quarterback Chris Nickson rushed for a career-high 166 yards and two touchdowns, and passed for another TD. Nickson missed the second half of last season and the win over South Carolina with a separated shoulder, but has deemed himself healthy and is excited to take advantage of a game plan designed to utilize his speed.
"Whatever wins," said Nickson, who was 9-of-16 for 91 yards in the opener. "I'm a very effective runner and feel like I can make big plays with my running ability. If in any way the game plan sees fit that I run 30 times, I'm down for it as long as we're winning."
Vanderbilt has not opened with consecutive victories since winning its first four games in 2005.
The Commodores have lost four straight home games to South Carolina since a 17-14 victory in 1998. The Gamecocks lead the all-time series 14-3.
Did you like this article? Subscribe to our College Football news feed for the fastest updates delivered right to you - Click here to Subscribe