March 29, 2008

First Scrimmage A Little 'Helter-Skelter'

With only five practices completed going in, Saturday's full-contact scrimmage at Williams-Brice Stadium, the first of the spring, played out with few surprises.

The offense moved the ball sometimes, but struggled during other stretches to get anything going. The defense had their moments, as well, both good and bad.

"It was pretty helter-skelter offensively," South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier said. "The D-Line seemed to get the best of the O-Line. But other than that we had a few good plays here and there, Overall, it was pretty ragged."

Sophomore quarterback Chris Smelley, the favorite to claim the starting job with Stephen Garcia suspended until Aug. 15, enjoyed a solid afternoon by completing 15-of-26 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.

"I thought we looked better than the other practices we've had," Smelley said. "But we' too up and down. We need to be more consistent. There's a lot of areas we need improvement. We have a couple more weeks to get better. The defense was more intense today. There was a lot of battling going on with the offensive line."

Both of his touchdown strikes went to junior tight end Jared Cook from 20 yards and one yard out. Tommy Beecher threw a 12-yard TD pass to tight end Weslye Saunders.

"The quarterbacks threw the ball OK," Spurrier said. "It wasn't anything spectacular. They both had some good moments."

Beecher, entering his fourth year in the program, was 8-for-20 for 91 yards. He, along with Smelley, were the only two quarterbacks to see action.

"Things were a little shaky out there with this being the first scrimmage," Beecher said. "We all made mistakes. I felt confident out there. I just have to get more consistent. I'm feeling better every day."

The other nine points in the scrimmage were provided by senior placekicker Ryan Succop, who connected on all three of his field goal attempts, including a 51-yarder that started the afternoon's scoring.

Bobby Wallace, who sat out last season with a shoulder injury, was the top rusher with two carries for 26 yards. True freshman Eric Baker carried six times for 18 yards, while Brian Maddox had eight carries for 12 yards.

Senior running back Mike Davis sat out the scrimmage due to a hamstring injury sustained earlier this week in practice. Davis is not expected to return for another week or more.

"We have to get him well," Spurrier said.

Senior Larry Freeman, who had just two catches for 30 yards last season, paced USC's receiving corps with four catches for 56 yards.

Weslye Saunders, a sophomore tight end from Raleigh, N.C., had four catches for 49 yards. Joseph Hills caught four passes for 41 yards, while Jared Cook, another tight end, had three catches for 26 yards.

"Our tight ends are some of our best receivers, but they need to block also," Spurrier said. "Sometimes they forget that. Tight ends are supposed to block as well as catch passes."

But the tight ends weren't the only ones who struggled in their blocking responsibilities. The offense line, which had a lackluster showing in Friday night final pre-scrimmage workout, had a mediocre day trying to hold back USC's defenders.

"Our blocking is not very good anywhere much right now," Spurrier said. "We have a lot to work on as far as running the ball and pass protection. It went about the way it's been going in practice. It wasn't anything unusual. We're just trying to get (the offensive line) to compete and play their assignments. I think we have enough talent on the o-line to fight pretty well, but we just haven't gotten it out of them yet."

The scrimmage started on a positive note for the offense when Bobby Wallace ripped off a 20-yard run. But the series soon died.

The second series, though, produced fruit for the USC offense. With Smelley calling the siganals, the offense converted a fourth-and-3 on a 13-yard pass to Saunders.

"I though Weslye Saunders and Jared Cook played well," Smelley said. "Jared is a fast guy who can run and jump. Weslye is a bigger guys who really gets his hands onto the ball. They're both great targets."

The offense penetrated as far as the 24 before an 18-yard loss on a sack set up a third-and-long situation. After an eight-yard pass to Larry Freeman, Ryan Succop boomed a 52-yard field goal through the uprights.

An outstanding catch by redshirt freshman Jason Barnes on a 30-yard connection from Beecher set up a 27-yard field goal by Succop in the fourth series.

Smelley fired completions to Matt Clements (21 yards) and a pair to Freeman, including a 31-yarder down to the 15-yard line, that set up another 27-yard field goal by Succop.

Eric Norwood, now playing outside linebacker, and Travian Robertson ended the sixth and eighth series, respectively, with sacks.

"One of the most important things we're trying to do this spring is develop an attitude," USC defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said. "I'm hoping we can get some confidence. We have some young, unproven players and they have to get tougher. Right now, we're evaluating players and trying to identify players and see how they perform. We have some talent but not enough discipline yet."

After Smelley completed a 24-yard pass to Joseph Hills on the first play of the ninth series, three straight incompletions forced a punt.

Freeman showed his versatility by roaring through the line and blocking the punt.

"Larry has blocked on in practice," Spurrier said. "He may be pretty good at that. That was encouraging on his part. It was one-on-one (blocking) and the protection was not very good. Larry got his hand in there. It was a good job on his part."

Special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski has devoted hours of time this spring to improving USC's special teams. It looks like his efforts are beginning to pay off in the punting department, though one was blocked Saturday.

"Three out of four (punts) didn't look too bad, but, unfortunately, when you get one blocked that's not good for the punt team," Rychleski said. "On the other hand, Larry Freeman broke free and blocked one. He got one in practice the other day, so it's a double edge sword. You don't want to get a punt blocked, but we also know Larry is pretty good at blocking kicks."

Starting with the 11th possession, USC worked on its red zone offense. The first series ended quickly on a successful note for the offense when Jared Cook dove to catch a tipped pass for a touchdown.

Minutes later, Smelley threw a fourth-down TD pass to Cook from the 1-yard line. The final series ended with a scoring play to Saunders.

USC spent the final segment of the scrimmage working on third-down, red zone and overtime situations.

"We're trying to do a whole bunch of third-down stuff to see if we can get better in that area," Spurrier said. "We'll do that all the rest of the spring, too."

Ryan Succop 51-yard field goal
Ryan Succop 27-yard field goal
Ryan Succop 27-yard field goal
Jared Cook 20-yard pass from Chris Smelley (Nate Spurrier kick)
Jared Cook 1-yard pass from Chris Smelley (Steven Huegel kick)
Weslye Saunders 12-yard pass from Tommy Beecher (Ryan Succop kick).


PASSING: Chris Smelley 26-15-0-184, 2 TD; Tommy Beecher 20-8-0-91, 1 TD. TOTAL: 46-23-0-275; 3 TD.

RUSHING: Bobby Wallace 2-26; Eric Baker 6-18; Brian Maddox 8-12; Taylor Rank 4-5; Moe Brown 1-5; C.C. Whitlock 2-
(-2); Dion Lecorn 1-(-7); Chris Smelley 3-(-31); Tommy Beecher 9-(-35). TOTAL: 36-(-9).

RECEIVING: Larry Freeman 4-56; Weslye Saunders 4-49; Joe Hills 4-41; Jared Cook 3-26; Bobby Wallace 3-22; Matt
Clements 2-32; Jason Barnes 1-30; Freddie Brown 1-17; Moe Brown 1-2. TOTAL: 23-275; 3 TD.

Practices Held - 6
Practices Left - 9
Next Practice - Mon., March 31, 7:15 p.m.


-- The following players wore yellow jerseys on Saturday: Stoney Woodson, Jim Hutton, Carlos Thomas, John Guerry, Nathan Pepper, Kevin Young, Captain Munnerlyn, Nick Prochak, Kenny McKinley, Marvin Sapp, Gurminder Thind, Dustin Lindsey and Blake Baxley.

-- Jamon Meredith, last year's starting left tackle, layed a few snaps on Saturday. Spurrier said that's by design, since Meredith has to sit out the first two games of the 2008 season as part of the NCAA's decision to grant him a conditional medical hardship for the 2004 season. He's out the first two games because of the redshirt thing," Spurrier said. "We're trying to get those other guys ready."

-- Spurrier said Spencer Lanning "has a chance" to become USC's punter this season. "He punted well," Spurrier said. "In the pre-scrimmage, he was our best punter. He hit a couple of good ones during the scrimmage."

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