October 15, 2007

It's Open Season On Offensive Line

Steve Spurrier has decided to open things up.

But not in the way you think.

After a disappointing showing by the offensive front in the second half of Saturday's 21-15 victory over North Carolina, the starting role at one or more positions on the offensive line will be decided by 'open tryouts' in practice this week, Spurrier said Monday night following a two-hour workout on the Bluff Road practice fields.

"We've got a bunch of tryouts going," Spurrier said. "We'll have at least one new starter in there. We'll let you know later in the week."

Spuurier, though, declined to specify which of the five O-line positions were up for grabs.

"It's too important. We don't want to give Vandy any extra advantage giving away information like that," Spurrier said. "You know they're over there worried who's going to play guard, don't you?"

The Gamecocks host pesky Vanderbilt Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in a contest that will televised throughout the Palmetto State on a pay-per-view basis.

USC, which has beaten Vanderbilt seven consecutive years, is sixth in the initial BCS standings released Sunday afternoon. The Gamecocks are No. 6 in the Associated Press poll and No. 8 in the USA Today/Coaches' poll.

The same quintet has started the last three games, all wins, for USC: LT Jamon Meredith, LG Seaver Brown, C William Brown, RG James Thompson and RT Justin Sorensen.

Gurminder Thind played a significant number of snaps in Saturday's game, his first action since the S.C. State game. The Canadian started the contest against the Bulldogs but suffered an injury and sat out the next three games. He had played a total of 42 snaps entering last Saturday's game.

Garrett Anderson and Lemuel Jeanpierre have also started at guard this season. Meredith and Sorensen have started all seven games at the two tackle spots.

The Commodores fell to 3-3 overall, 1-2 in the SEC with a disappointing 20-17 loss to Georgia Saturday night in Nashville. Their three losses have come to Alabama, Auburn and Georgia.

"We're looking forward to playing Vandy," Spurrier said. "Vandy is a team that has lost to three good teams. We need to play well to beat them."

The Commodores were driving deep into Bulldogs territory in the closing minutes when Georgia recovered a fumble by Vanderbilt's Cassen Jackson-Garrison at the 7-yard line. UGA proceeded to drive down the field for Brandon Coutu's 37-yard field goal as time expired.

"Georgia made a heck of a drive," Spurrier said. "They hit some good balls. They got within field goal range and made it. It was a game-winning drive Georgia put together. Vandy is a very good team."

USC practiced under clear skies Monday night two days after attaining bowl eligibility with

"It was a nice night to practice, a beautiful night, no wind, not too hot," Spurrier said. "The weather has been nice for us. We're going to try to play a lot harder and smarter and play our assignments better than we did last week."

Carlos Thomas returned to practice after suffering a neck injury last Tuesday. He missed the North Carolina game but was "out running around a bit" Monday night when USC started preparations for Vanderbilt.

"Carlos is back. He was looking pretty good," Emanuel Cook said. "He didn't look like he ever had any injuries."

Stoney Woodson, who also missed the UNC game due to a hamstring injury, also returned to the practice field but spent time icing his hamstrings, Cook said.

"We're very healthy for this time of the year," Spurrier said. "Jasper (Brinkley) and Nate (Pepper) are really the only serious injury we've had. Hopefully, Stoney and Carlos will be able to play this Saturday."

SMELLEY STILL UNBEATEN AS A STARTER: The second half of Saturday's victory at North Carolina may not have gone the way Chris Smelley planned but there's no disputing the result. He's 4-0 as a starter this season.

Smelley threw a career-high three touchdown passes in the first half to help USC build a 21-3 lead before withstanding a late rally by UNC. He finished 17-of-26 for 172 yards. USC ran the ball 16 times out of 23 second-half plays.

"The (offensive) line did a great job in the first half," Smelley said. "The receivers were catching the ball and getting open. It didn't quite work out in the second half as well.

"They definitely had more guys in the box trying to stop the run," Smelley said. "We weren't able to get anything going. I know (Coach Spurrier) was trying his hardest to win. He was doing everything he can and what he thought was right. He does that every game."

Smelley opened the scoring with a three-yard TD pass to Dion Lecorn and a 30-yard TD pass to Kenny McKinley in the first quarter. He added a 12-yard scoring pass to Jared Cook with 15 seconds left in the second quarter. After that, it was a struggle.

"We had some good things go well and some things go not so well," Smelley said. "But we got the win and that's what matters. Every time I get out on the field and have game experience, it's definitely going to help me progress as a quarterback."

Smelley started the season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette, becoming the first redshirt freshman to start the opening game for USC since 1986. He's been USC's top QB since replacing Blake Mitchell at the outset of the second half of the Sept. 22 game at LSU.

Now that he's playing on a full-time, Smellay has learned to appreciate every victory when it comes.

"College football is so balanced this year, a win is a win," Smelley said. "It doesn't how pretty it is or how ugly it is. We're thankful to come out with the victory."

MUNNERLYN SECONDARY READY FOR VANDERBILT TEST: Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and the USC secondary is ranked third in the nation in pass defense behind Clemson and Ohio State. But they have a huge test this weekend tryiongto slow down Vanderbilt and all-league receiver Earl Bennett.

Bennett had 16 receptions two years ago when USC outlasted the Commodores, 35-28, on a late touchdown pass. But last season in Nashville was a different story as Bennett was held to four receptions for 16 yards.

"He's a great receiver," Munnerlyn said. "He's physical, he can jump, and he runs great routes. We did a good job last year, but I really don't know the game plan (this year).

Unlike some teams, USC gambled last year by not double teaming Bennett. It was a decision that paid off. Vanderbilt passed for 120 yards in USC's 31-13 victory, completing just 11-of-25 passes with two interceptions by Munnerlyn and Thomas.

"Coach Cooper trusted us to play man, and we did pretty good against (Bennett)," Munnerlyn said.

Munnerlyn is fifth on the team with 30 tackles. He has two interceptions and three pass breakups. Last season, he had 36 tackles and two interceptions as a true freshman.

"I didn't think I'd play much my freshman year," Munnerlyn said. "But (defensive backs coach Ron Cooper) just talked to me and told me how I could help the team. Coach Cooper is a great coach. I mean I came out here and I wasn't to physical, but he taught me how to cover the receivers up close. I didn't even know what cover 2 and all was but I learned."

VANDERBILT REPORT: Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson, a Palmetto State native, knows his club will be heavy underdogs against the sixth-ranked Gamecocks when the Commodores travel to Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday.

"They're pretty good. They're beating people," Johnson said Monday when asked if USC had 'arrived' as a major college power. "That's the only way you can say you've arrived or haven't arrived. They're 6-1. That's arrived in my book. They've been good for the last six or seven years. They've had some good athletes. Coach (Lou) Holtz had some good years. They built on that. They got some good players."

Johnson said he's impressed by USC's redshirt freshman QB Chris Smelley in his early film review of the Gamecocks.

"You have to take your hat off to him. It's a tough job for a redshirt freshman, and he seems to handle everything extremely well," Johnson said. "They've very efficient on offense. By efficient, I mean they win the game. They do what they have to do on offense. He's got some good help. He's got some good receivers. I'm also really impressed with their running backs, (Cory) Boyd and (Mike) Davis. I think that's a big help to him. They make some big plays for their offense."

TENNESSEE GAME ON ESPN: USC's critical SEC conference game Oct. 27 against Tennessee in Knoxville, will kick off at 7:45 p.m. and will be televised nationally by ESPN. It's the fourth straight time the two teams have played in prime time in Knoxville. USC won, 16-15, two years ago on a late 49-yard field goal by Josh Brown. Tennessee, which leads the all-time series over USC, 20-3-2, travels to Tuscaloosa, Ala. Saturday to face Alabama at 12:30 p.m. ET. The contest will be televised by LFS.

NOTES:

-- Dustin Lindsey has returned to practice, Spurrier said. Lindsey is trying to return from a knee injury in initially sustained in the spring game. He re-aggravated the injury against Georgia and hasn't played since. Lindsey was ill last week and missed a couple of days, leading Spurrier to say the coaches didn't know where he was.

-- Spurrier said the fact strong safety Emanuel Cook has led the team in tackles four of the last five games doesn't bother him. "Ko (Simpson) was our leading tackler the first year here," he said. "That's just the way it is. Our run defense got a little bit better last week." Cook is one of five sophomores who lead the team in tackles.

-- The SEC office announced Monday that Kentucky will be fined $50,000 for its third violation of the league's access to competition area policy. UK fans stormed the field at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky. Saturday night after The Wildcats outlasted former No. 1 LSU, 43-37, in triple OT. The league policy, effective Dec. 1, 2004, states in part that "access to competition areas shall be limited to participating student-athletes, coaches, officials, support personnel and properly-credentialed individuals at all times."



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