Freshman Chris Smelley entered Saturday's scrimmage as South Carolina's third string quarterback, at best.
Two hours later, after throwing for three touchdowns and demonstrating a powerful and accurate throwing arm, he may have displaced Cade Thompson as the trop backup to entrenched starter Blake Mitchell.
Smelley's performance was the highlight of a 70-play scrimmage Saturday afternoon before an estimated crowd of 4,500 fans under overcast skies at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Making his first appearance on USC's home turf, Smelley completed 10-of-17 passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns, including scoring strikes to Noah Whiteside and O.J. Murdock.
"Chris threw the ball around pretty well," USC head coach Steve Spurrier said. "He's got a knack, it seems like, that when he gets in the scrimmages the ball goes down the field. He made a couple of third-and10's there in his first drive and went on and scored. Gosh, his group scored about every time except one or two. That was encouraging. He's getting close to knowing what to do. He's pretty close to understanding what we're trying to do."
Mitchell had an excellent performance as well, completing 9-of-12 passes for 147 yards and touchdowns tosses to fullback Lanard Stafford and All-American Sidney Rice.
"Obviously Blake is way ahead of all the other guys knowledge-wise," Spurrier said. "Blake is even where he can make
some audibles now. So we're farther along offensively. And I think we're better defensively also, although at times today we didn't look all that sharp."
The scrimmage served a useful purpose for Spurrier and his coaching staff as they try to determine who to put on the field when USC opens the regular season Aug. 31 at Mississippi State.
"We're trying to find out who can play their assignment the best and go from there," Spurrier said. "We had some good plays offensively and had some good plays defensively. The best part, of course, is nobody got hurt. Offensively, we pretty much know who our players will be."
After Mitchell and Cade Thompson were ineffective on the first three series, Smelley entered the game and, with the third team offense facing the third team defense, promptly directed a 70-yard drive in eight plays for a touchdown.
The first big play of the game for the offense came when Smelley connected with Murdock in the center of the field for a 21-yard gain out to midfield on a third-and-10 play.
Two plays later, Smelley hooked up with Murdock again on a third-and-10 play. Murdock caught a short pass, whirled and scampered 25 yards down to the 24-yard line.
"O.J. Murdock came out and made some plays," Spurrier said. "He's not very good in the weight room or summer workouts but if he can catch the ball and make some plays and help us, maybe that will overcome some of his shortcomings."
Smelley hit Mike West for a 21-yard gain on the next play before connecting with Noah Whiteside, who is suspended for the first three games, on a 4-yard touchdown toss.
"It felt pretty good," Whiteside said. "I enjoyed doing a little running around and catching touchdown passes."
After having a pass intercepted by Dakota Walker, Mitchell fired a 8-yard touchdown pass to Stafford, completing a 70-yard drive that was sparked by a 33-yard completion by Kenny McKinley. Stafford made the reception at about the 3-yard line and dove over the goal line.
"We had a descent day," Mitchell said. "But we still have a long ways to go before the first game. As long as we keep on improving out here we will be all right."
Following a pair of unproductive series, Smelley and running back Taylor Rank hooked up on a 46-yard touchdown play. Rank caught a dump pass and raced over 40 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown.
"It was a great experience being out here for the first time in the stadium and playing in front of a pretty good crowd," Smelley said. "We got a lot of good work done. I was a little nervous at first but I settled down after I got going a little bit. I really enjoyed it."
After a brief intermission that featured Ryan Succop and Spencer Lanning working on the punting game, USC spent the rest of the afternoon working out the kinks in the red zone offense.
Mitchell threw a touchdown pass to Rice, while Smelley found Murdock for a score.
"My favorite pass was probably the one to O.J. Murdock in the back of the end-zone," Smelley said. "It's called a mill route. It is like a deep post down the middle. I had the safety creep up a little bit and I just threw it over top of him."
The only blemish for the offense Saturday was the poor production from the running game in the absence of last season's top running back Mike Davis.
Sophomore Bobby Wallace led USC with seven carries for 31 yards and a touchdown. Overall, the Gamecocks were credited for minus-28 yards rushing in 27 attempts.
"The defense really stepped up today," freshman linebacker Rodney Paulk, who last played in Williams-Brice last December in the Class 4-A, Division II championship game. "The defensive line really played well. The defense overall played with a lot of intensity. We swarmed to the football like Coach Nix told us to."
But subtract the yardage lost by Thompson and Brett Nichols on sacks, and USC finished with 53 yards in 19 rushing attempts, an average of 2.8 yards per carry.
Cory Boyd couldn't find any running room all afternoon, totaling just seven yards on six carries.
"We didn't run the ball very well against our defense today," Coach Spurrier said. "That was not very good. Hopefully we have a better defense against the run (this year)."
USC's third quarterback, Cade Thompson suffered through a subpar afternoon, connecting on 6-of-14 passes for 55 yards. Redshirt freshman Tommy Beecher was held out because of a left thumb injury.
Syvelle Newton, who Spurrier intends to use in the shotgun from time to time this season, took a few snaps at quarterback and did not attempt any passes.
Saturday's scrimmage was Newton's first appearance on the Williams-Brice Stadium turf since tearing an Achilles tendon on a touchdown run against Vanderbilt last October.
"It felt great to get back into the swing of things," Newton said. "I wasn't nervous. It was a chance for me to go out and show people I could still play football. Coach told me that he wanted me to be flexible this year, that he's going to use me the same way he did in the Vanderbilt game. We got a little bit of that started today. We just put that (play) in."
Newton had a crowd-pleasing 16-yard carry in his lone rushing attempt. The play may have drawn the loudest cheers of the day.
"How about that play that (Syvelle) made? When he gets the ball in his hand, he's a different guy," Spurrier said. "That little package with him in the shotgun is something we need to do."
Overall, the USC quarterbacks completed 25-of-43 passes for 375 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
Thirteen different Gamecock receivers caught at least one pass, with redshirt freshman O.J. Murdock topping the list with three catches for 69 yards and a touchdown.
Cory Boyd, Noah Whiteside and Bobby Wallace had three catches apiece while Rice made two catches for 27 yards.
"I thought the defense did a tremendous job," said Rice, who played less than 10 snaps Saturday. "They always play well and most of the time they are playing their assignments. We just got a couple of breaks today. I still think overall they played real well."
Defensively, Paulk flashed some of his high school form when he forced a fumble from Thompson, scooped up the ball on the dead run and sped 21 yards for a touchdown on the secondplay of the third series.
"Coach Nix had a blitz called off the edge and coach is always talking about making plays," Paulk said. "So when I went for the sack, I tried to knock the ball out. I was able to knock it out and I picked the fumble up and ran it in. But if the defense was not doing what they were supposed to be doing that would not have happened. I would not have had that opportunity. I've got to make plays."
The defense tallied interceptions by sophomore linebacker Dakota Walker and freshman cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who is battling to become the starter at cornerback opposite Fred Bennett.
Rodney Paulk 21-yard fumble return.
Noah Whiteside 4-yard pass from Chris Smelley
Lanard Stafford 8-yard pass from Blake Mitchell
Ryan Succop 50-yard field goal
Taylor Rank 46-yard pass from Chris Smelley
Ryan Succop 37-yard field goal
Bobby Wallace 8-yard run
Sidney Rice 25-yard pass from Blake Mitchell
Charlie Carpenter 19-yard field goal
O.J. Murdock 24-yard pass from Chris Smelley
Charlie Carpenter 47-yard field goal
Chris Smelley 10-17-0-173, 3 TDs; Blake Mitchell 9-12-1-147, 2 TDs; Cade Thompson 6-14-1-55 0 TDs; TEAM 25-43-2-
375, 5 TDs.
Bobby Wallace 7-31 (1 TD); Syvelle Newton 1-16; Cory Boyd 6-7; Lanard Stafford 2-5; Taylor Rank 1-(-1); Chris Smelley 2-
(-5); Brett Nichols 2-(-23); Cade Thompson 6-(-58); TEAM 27-(-28) (1 TD).
O.J. Murdock 3-69 (1 TD); Cory Boyd 3-35; Noah Whiteside 3-23 (1 TD); Taylor Rank 2-47 (1 TD); Sidney Rice 2-27 (1 TD);
Marquise Brown 2-26; Paul Haile 2-11; Kenny McKinley 1-33; Mo Brown 1-26; Mike West 1-20; Jared Cook 1-18; Lanard
Stafford 1-8 (1 TD); TOTALS 25-375 (5 TD).
2006 FALL PRACTICE COUNTDOWN
Practices Held - 9
Practices Left - 20
Next Practice - Sun., August 13, 7:30 p.m.
-- These players wore yellow jerseys Saturday: Leon Gamble (right thumb), Clark Gaston (mild concussion), Gerrod Sinclair (knee), Brandon Isaac (hamstring), Doug Peterson (thigh).
-- USC reported two injuries during the scrimmage: tight end Andy Boyd (right shoulder) and wide receiver Mike West (left hamstring).
-- Sophomore running back Mike Davis, who practiced for the first time Friday night following his recovery from a severe foot infection, did not play Saturday. He wore a red jersey and ran sprints in the end zone while carrying a football during pre-scrimmage warm-ups.
-- Fan Appreciation Day will be held Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Colonial Center. The event is free and open to the public. The doors will open at 12:30 p.m.
-- USC commitment Travian Robertson and his father attended Saturday's scrimmage along with prospect ().
-- Spurrier said the target weight for freshman defensive tackle Kendrick Ellis is 320 pounds. "He's a good player in there," Spurrier said. "We're excited about him. He needs to lose some weight. It's probably goingto be a constant battle for him."
-- Spurrier said the USC kickers were much improved over last season. Special teams coordinator Fred Chatham said using Ryan Succop as both the punter and placekicker "would not be the ideal situation."
-- Spurrier continued to rave about the class of incoming freshmen. "Most of them invested some time this summer on their own to learn the system, to meet with the older guys and watch some tape," Spurrier said. "Some of them studied it very well. They really wanted to learn."
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