South Carolina FB: Bench Blake Mitchell, Play Chris Smelley

Joseph AlbersonAnalyst ISeptember 23, 2007

IconQuarterback Chris Smelley gives USC their best chance to win right now.  

I’ve been a longtime supporter of Blake Mitchell, but enough is enough. It’s time for a change.

After completing less than 45 percent of his passes for fewer than 75 yards and no touchdowns, Mitchell was benched in the first half against LSU.

Smelley played the rest of the game, and ended the day with 174 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.  

Compared to Mitchell, Smelley has shown more confidence in his receivers—especially USC’s youngsters—and has proven himself better able to throw the ball downfield.

The vertical game is Mitchell’s major hangup right now.  Without go-to guy Sidney Rice, Mitchell has been generally ineffective.

Another issue is pass-protection, or rather lack of pass-protection.  Even versus a lowly SC State squad, the offensive line was struggled.  LSU’s dominating defensive line, led by All-American Glenn Dorsey, was able to get in the face of the Gamecock quarterbacks all afternoon.

That’s another mark in Smelley’s favor.

While Mitchell is an ineffective scrambler when protection breaks down, Smelley proved his mobility versus UL-Lafayette in the opener.

Mitchell has always been prone to mistakes, dating back to last year against Clemson when he threw three or four interceptions and was bailed out by the excellent play of the defense and running backs.

Smelley, on other hand, seems to rise to the occasion in tough situations.

Trailing 28-7 with 10:28 remaining in the fourth quarter, Smelley twice drove the Gamecocks down the field, getting them within 12 points and making the final score more respectable.

The loss to LSU doesn’t necessarily doom the Gamecocks in the SEC East, where  Florida was exposed this weekend by Ole Miss. The Gamecocks have a very favorable schedule until the Gators arrive in late November.

The last time Florida traveled to Columbia, USC pulled off a 30-22 upset.  

On the whole, then, Gamecock fans shouldn’t fret too much about the loss to LSU.  Let’s face it—LSU is the best team in the nation.  Don’t be surprised if the Bayou Bengals are wearing the BCS crown at the end of the year.

All that matters for the Gamecocks at this point is giving Smelley his chance.

If the rushing game can get back on track versus Mississippi State in next weekend’s homecoming game, look for Smelley to have a career day passing the ball. Young receivers like Jason Barnes, Wesley Saunders, and Chris Culliver should be more productive for the offense.

In a perfect world, USC gets the win and plenty of offensive confidence heading into the rest of their SEC schedule.

If all goes according to plan, look for USC to be 7-1 when they travel to Knoxville to take on the Volunteers.  The following stretch of games could see the Gamecocks finish anywhere from 11-1 to 7-5.

With that much on the line, it’s time for a change under center.

Bench Blake Mitchell. Let Chris Smelley play.  


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