Blake Mitchell's performance Saturday night in the 27-24 overtime loss to Tennessee was reminiscent of the final 18 quarters last season when the fifth-year senior quarterback tore apart opposing defenses.
As a result, Mitchell will likely be rewarded with his fourth start of the season this Saturday when South Carolina faces Arkansas at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Ark. at 8 p.m. ET. The contest will be televised by ESPN or ESPN2.
Chris Smelley, who started the last four games, has been demoted to third team behind Tommy Beecher after a shaky performance Saturday night. He completed three of five passes for 40 yards before being lifted in favor of Mitchell after throwing an interception on the first play of the second quarter.
"Right now, we're planning on starting Blake," Spurrier said. "We'll probably get Tommy Beecher (ready too) and see what he can do. He hasn't played in a long time. We have to find out if he can do anything before the year is over. There's a chance that if Blake gets knocked out of the game, we'll put Beecher in."
Beecher last played in the win over S.C. State on Sept. 15. He has completed 14 of 22 passes this season for 175 yards and one touchdown.
Mitchell, who last started at quarterback in the LSU game, completed 31 of 45 passes for 290 yards and one touchdown in the heartbreaking defeat to the Volunteers.
"Blake threw a lot of good (passes)," Spurrier said. "Unfortunately, he had a couple that got away from him there at the end. The receivers caught about everything."
In the second half, Mitchell connected on 66.7 percent of his passes (24 of 36) for 234 yards and a game-tying TD toss to Kenny McKinley.
Spurrier, though, lamented USC's failure to make play in overtime that could have either won the game or resulted in a shorter field goal attempt for Ryan Succop.
"Overtime was a bad series for us," Spurrier said. "That's when the game was on the line. Too bad (Mitchell) dropped the snap. We had a quick screen going to Cory. But we threw out there late and we lost five yards. Then (Mitchell) had Kenny (open) but barely overthrew him on a corner route that would have made a huge difference."
USC fell into a tie for third place in the SEC East with Florida at 3-3. Georgia currently sits stop the division with a 4-2 conference mark, while Tennessee is one-half game behind at 3-2.
However, since Tennessee beat Georgia, 35-14, three weeks ago, the Vols control their destiny by owning the tie-breaker over the Bulldogs.
In order to capture the division and advance to the SEC Championship game in Atlanta on Dec. 1, the Gamecocks need Tennessee to lose two conference games. The Vols finish the campaign with league games against Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
"I've had some tough (losses)," Spurrier said. "Usually the toughest ones are the ones with a championship on the line. We could have been in very good shape in the Eastern Division, although it wouldn't have done anything except just put us in
good shape. Mathematically, we're not completely out of it yet."
USC fell to 6-3 overall, 3-3 in the SEC, and tumbled to No. 23 in the Associated Press Poll and No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
"It's good to know we're still ranked," Spurrier said. "One of our goals this year was to be ranked in the Top 25. But we need to win at least two of the next three, and hopefully all of them if we can. We need to get back on the winning track real soon."
The updated BCS standings are set to be released at approximately 7:45 p.m. Sunday night following the conclusion of Fox Sport's coverage of the NFL.
Mitchell directed a sensational second half performance by the USC offense in which the Gamecock outgained Tennessee by a 355-112 margin. Overall, USC has 501 total yards of offense compared to 317 for Tennessee.
"Our guys played pretty hard in the second half but we didn't make the plays sometimes when they were there," Spurrier said. "Again, that's why we came out losers. We'll get over this one. We're not the first team to outplay an opponent and lose. I've done that before. And I've won when an opponent outplayed us. You take it with a grain of salt and you don't let it knock you down too low. You get over it quickly and try to move on."
USC held the ball for nearly 36-1/2 minutes, while Tennessee had it for just 23-1/2 minutes. In addition, USC had nearly twice as many first downs as Tennessee (31-16).
"It was just one game," Spurrier said. "We made some yards, we ran the draw play well and Cory (Boyd) ran extremely well. Mike (Davis) ran well until he had that dang fumble down there. We did some things offensively. We didn't win the game, so I'm not going to brag on anybody except for Cory and Kenny."
A lapse by the kickoff coverage team on the ensuing kickoff after Ryan Succop had booted the go-ahead field goal with 1:24 left, followed by USC's inability to fall on a pair of fumbles, proved costly to the Gamecocks.
"We fumbled twice, they got both of them; they fumbled twice and got both of them too," Spurrier said. "That was a key to the game."
Mitchell benefited from solid protection from the offensive line. USC allowed just one sack a week after giving up seven to Vanderbilt.
Redshirt freshman Heath Batchelor saw significant action at right guard and played well, Spurrier said. The Haleyville, Ala. native also lined up at tight end in an unbalanced formation on a couple of occasions inside the red zone.
Seaver Brown, another redshirt freshman, took most of the second-half snaps at left guard.
"Heath played pretty well in there," Spurrier said. "Amazingly, we played with only one sack. The (offensive) line played a lot better than last week."
Boyd had a career-high 160 yards rushing for USC, while Kenny McKinley tied the school record with 14 receptions for 151 yards.
"Cory had an outstanding game catching and running," Spurrier said. "He really helped himself as far as the NFL Draft is concerned. Cory and Kenny McKinley were our two star offensive players of the game. Blake almost was, if he had hit one of those last two."
-- Spurrier said one of the keys to the game was USC didn't force a lot of turnovers. USC committed four turnovers, while UT had one. "We didn't get a lot of big plays, turnover-wise," Spurrier said. "I tell (co-special teams coordinator) Fred Chatham to get the best players he can out there. But he always ends up with a lot players who don't play very much."
-- Munnerlyn and McKinley were treated with IV's for dehydration. "Both of those players have very little body fat, so they need to drink a lot of Gatorade," Spurrier said.
-- Spurrier said one of the keys to the game was Tennessee got a fourth-down interference call against Captain Munnerlyn and USC didn't get one on Jared Cook in the end zone. However, USC was not blaming the officials for the loss, Spurrier said, asserting USC had other chances to win the game but didn't make a play. Nevertheless, USC is sending video of several plays to the league office for review.
-- Spurrier noted that Arkansas could have a lot better record than they do. The Razorbacks gave up last-second touchdown to Alabama and a last-second field goal to Auburn. Arkansas is 1-3 in the league.
-- Spurrier said Ryan Succop has been 'okay' on kickoffs. Spurrier noted that "USC kicks it about as far as anybody." However, the kickoff coverage must get better. USC gave up a 37-yard return by LaMarcus Coker to the UT 47 on the kickoff subsequent to the go-ahead field goal. "The guy went up in there and got in wad and all of a sudden he came out backwards and outran everybody going to the other side," Spurrier said. He added Succop tried to kick it away from Coker.
-- Spurrier said a few of the players played tight and were a 'little nervous and scared.' But, overall, not many players were like that. Cory Boyd suggested following the game that USC had been tight in the first half.
-- The USC defense played very well, especially in the second half, Spurrier said. Captain Munnerlyn led USC with 11 tackles, while Emanuel Cook had 10.
-- Spurrier said he wanted to kick the winning field goal with about 20 to 30 seconds left, But Cory Boyd ran out of bounds on a carry and Blake Mitchell threw an incomplete pass on a rollout. Spurrier said USC would have been better to run the ball up the middle and take time off the clock. "I was trying to milk the clock but it didn't work out."
-- Spurrier said it wouldn't surprise him if LSU lost another game, starting with this weekend's showdown against Alabama.
-- Spurrier said the USC defense played very well in holding the Tennessee offense to 317 yards.
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