Up for Debate

South Carolina at Vanderbilt
SEC Game of the Week
August 31, 2008

ESPN 7:30 ET

Barack and Biden or Johnny Mac and Pretty Palin?

Obambi and Bulldog or Maverick and Sarah Barracuda?

Well, that choice will have to wait a couple months, but South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has a political decision with his quarterbacks that must be made this week … Banged-Up Beecher or Sweet Smelley?

Spurrier declared the quarterback question “up for debate” following a 34-0 Thursday night victory over North Carolina State.

Normally a five-touchdown win would be cause for celebration rather than concern, but not in this instance and not with this coach. For more than half the game, the play of the SC offense and Spurrier’s hand-picked top QB – red-shirt junior Tommy Beecher – was as ugly as Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits. Beecher started for the Gamecocks, took more hits than a bag of nails at a carpenters’ convention, tossed four interceptions, and did not play after the third period because a smack to the head left him woozy.

While Beecher struggled, plenty of blame lies with the poor play of the offensive line. Beecher was sacked five times and “he was a quarterback throwing out of the basement cellar window,” Spurrier said Friday after the game referring to the constant pressure NC State applied.

Enter Chris Smelley, the sophomore reserve.

A sometime starter in 2007 (he went 4-2 in six starts), Smelley came off the bench to lead three 4th-quarter touchdown drives that included TD passes to Dion LeCorn and Jared Cook. He was five for five passing for 92 yards, all coming in the final stanza. That type performance makes a strong opening impression in any debate for future playing time. Smelley gets the start at Vanderbilt.

Although the SC offense struggled much of the game, the outcome of the contest never seemed in serious jeopardy because the Gamecock defense looked ready to handle anybody this side of the Russian army.

Forget about the Georgia Bulldogs in two weeks, send them to Tblisi to deal with a more serious red menace.

New defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson’s crew smothered the Wolfpack, allowing State only 138 total yards, forcing four turnovers, and never letting the Pack get past midfield in the second half. Altogether it was a dominating performance from a lineup that includes all-star candidates like LBs Eric Norwood and Jasper Brinkley, and CB Captain Munnerlyn.

For Vanderbilt, the defense was not nearly so fearsome but at least the Commodores definitely know who their quarterback will be.

Senior QB Chris Nickson ran for 166 yards and two touchdowns, propelling Vandy to a solid 34-13 road victory over Miami of Ohio. The Commodores rang up 269 yards rushing as a team and were never in any trouble after jumping to a 17-3 first quarter lead. The win is more impressive than it might seem at first glance because the Red Hawks played in the championship game of the tough Mid-America Conference (MAC) last season.

While the ground attack was able to put up good numbers, the tailbacks were missing in action. Three Vandy runners (Jared Hawkins, Gaston Miller, and Jeff Jennings) sputtered for only 77 yards on 25 attempts. That trio will have to produce better numbers against SC if the Commodores are to compete.

Vandy was also less than impressive through the air. Nickson passed for just 91 yards on a 9 of 16 night, with one TD throw and no interceptions. He was sacked twice.

Nickson and the Commodores will be fortunate to put up those total offense numbers against the Carolina defense.

With a large and athletic front, super-size linebackers, and an outstanding secondary, the Gamecocks look every bit one of the better defenses in a league full of them. The offense may not be up to the same level, but SC should score enough to beat Vanderbilt before getting ten days to prepare for top-ranked Georgia.

They will need to close the QB debate before that one.

Game Ball: South Carolina

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