For the second week in a row, Chris Smelley held off Stephen Garcia in the fight for the starting quarterback job.
After his performance Saturday night, he might just keep the job for a little longer.
Despite promises from Steve Spurrier to play Garcia this week, the fan-favorite stayed on the sideline the entire game, watching Smelley carve up a porous Ole Miss defense. En route to 327 yards in the air, Smelley connected with nine different receivers, completing 22 of 32 passes and three touchdowns.
The result: A 31-24 win in Oxford.
In addition to some young receivers stepping up, specifically freshman Jason Barnes (seven catches, 76 yards, and two touchdowns), the Gamecocks also got a lift from the return of senior receiver Kenny McKinley, who caught four key balls after missing four games due to injury.
The Gamecocks also benefited from some hard running by Mike Davis, who registered 73 yards on 19 carries.
On the other side of the ball, however, the Gamecock defense might have stolen the show.
After giving up touchdowns on three of Ole Miss’ first four possessions, South Carolina held the Rebels to only 129 yards and a field goal in the second half—and perhaps more importantly—caused three turnovers, one of which produced six points, and another that appropriately ended the game.
The real chess match began well before the game, however, when on Sunday, Spurrier said it was likely that Garcia, much more of a dual threat than Smelley, would get his first SEC start—or play significant minutes.
Not until Thursday night did Spurrier announce that Smelley would be the starter—surely a bit of gamesmanship, as Spurrier’s former defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix likely planned his defense on stopping the athletic Garcia, whom Nix’s defense faced each week last year in practice when Garcia led the Gamecock scout team.
It will be interesting to see how Spurrier uses Smelley and Garcia as we move forward.
Regardless, the win is huge for South Carolina, who is no longer winless in SEC play—and now has offensive momentum heading into a difficult stretch. They travel to Kentucky next week and then get LSU at home the following week.