South Carolina-NC State: Defense, "Backup" QB Make Things Right in Columbia

James Gray IICorrespondent IAugust 29, 2008

Thursday night marked the much-anticipated college football kickoff involving the South Carolina Gamecocks and the NC State Wolfpack.  Anxiousness filled the stadium as many of the students entered the stadium 45 minutes to an hour early to pick their seats and watch pregame warmups. 

Coming into the game, we knew what our defense was capable of: We have one of the more underrated defenses and will be the most improved D in the SEC.  However, we weren’t sure how redshirt junior quarterback Tommy Beecher would handle his first collegiate career start. 

Well, it didn’t take long for the student section to start griping—three minutes into the game, Beecher threw his first interception.  For the most part fans gave him the benefit of the doubt, using the excuse of nerves as a reason to believe that he would get better as the game went on.

As we all know, things didn't get better for the North Carolina native—Beecher was intercepted two more times before the half ended.  By the time the third interception occurred, fans had almost completely lost patience with Beecher, as chants of “Smelley” started in the student section and eventually made their way around Williams-Brice. 

The Gamecocks went into halftime up 3-0 in front of a stunned and frustrated crowd, who were wondering when the offense would stop relying on our stellar defense.  The fans didn’t get their wish until the end of the third quarter, when Beecher was pulled due to a "head injury," but the damage had already been done as he had thrown his fourth interception.

The Gamecocks finally got their first touchdown from Mike Davis, which came after a Carlos Thomas interception at the NC State nine-yard line.  Ryan Succop also connected with a 46-yard field goal to make the score 13-0 with 1:15 left in the third quarter. 

The fourth quarter brought much applause as No. 7 entered the game and received a standing ovation from the Gamecock faithful.  And yes, there was much cheering to do, as Chris Smelley led the offense on its first legitimate scoring drive, capped off by a 20-yard pass to sophomore wide out Dion LeCorn.

The Gamecocks' next touchdown drive was finished off by senior tailback Taylor Rank, who ran in for a three-yard touchdown.

To add the icing to the cake, Smelley ended his night with a 13-yard TD strike to junior tight end Jared Cook with 3:32 left in the game.  Smelley ended the day an outstanding five-of-five for 92 yards and two touchdowns. 

To me the quarterback is issue is clear, as Beecher was 12-of-22 for 106 yards, four interceptions, and no touchdowns.  Beecher’s performance was a surprise to all Gamecock fans, as all offseason we were told left and right how smart the guy is and how confident Steve Spurrier is about Tommy this season.

My opinion, however, has been different all along, as I have previously stated in other articles.  I had Smelley ranked No. 7 in my preseason SEC quarterback rankings article despite the depth chart. 

With all the talk about the quarterback issues, we can't forget to credit the defense with its first season-opening shutout since the 2000 season.  The Carolina D held the Wolfpack to only 138 total yards and forced four turnovers, and for the first time since 1956, the Wolfpack were shut out in consecutive games.

Junior safety Emanuel Cook led the Cocks with nine solo tackles as Carlos Thomas and Stoney Woodson each brought in an interception. 

On a more serious note, redshirt freshman quarterback Russell Wilson was knocked out during the second quarter on an apparent knee to head injury and carried off the field strapped to a stretcher.  As he entered the tunnel, I was relieved to see a thumbs-up from Wilson.  Our prayers are with him and his family as we hope he can return to the playing field soon.

As senior writer Ben Weixlmann stated, there was much more to the game then a 34-point win.  It was rough at times, especially during the first half.  Things weren’t as easy as the score or ESPN made it look to be.  Nevertheless, the important thing was that we started slow, made adjustments, and finished strong.

Next week the Gamecocks head to Vanderbilt looking to avenge last season’s loss to the Commodores at home.  Mark my words: If No. 7 isn’t under center at the start of the game, you might hear the boos all the way from Columbia.


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