April 7, 2008

Quarterback Race Still Too Close To Call

Steve Spurrier has proclaimed after nearly every practice the last couple of weeks that the quarterback battle between Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher is too close to call.

Monday night's full-contact scrimmage, the second of the spring, only embellished his point. The third and final scrimmage allowed under NCAA rules will be the Garnet and Black game on April 19 at 1 p.m.

Smelley and Beecher compiled nearly identical statistics in a 75-minute scrimmage in front of several hundred fans at Williams-Brice Stadium that was heavy on situational football.

Smelley completed 14-of-19 passes for 143 yards, while Beecher connected on 13-of-19 passes for 142 yards. Both quarterbacks had a touchdown pass.

"I don't really know (how close it is)," Smelley said. "Both of us are working really hard. That the coach's call. I'm just out here playing trying to get better. I thought the offense looked pretty good tonight."

How close is the race? Very close.

"They've been even the whole time," Spurrier said. "If we had to play right now, I would say both of them would play. They're pretty close, pretty even. You don't know who's in there and who's not. When one separates from the other, then we'll know who to put in there."

Smelly acknowledged the battle with Beecher for the starting QB job could continue into fall camp.

"Yeah, it might," Smelley said. "Both of us have been playing prety well, so it's hard to make a call on that. We'll push each other the whole time. I think we'll both get better because of the competition."

Spurrier let wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier, Jr. call most of the plays duringthe scrimmage.

"He did most of it," Spurrier said. "I only called a few here and there. I will make mostly reminders. But I'll be a lot more involved just getting it organized. But, it's good for all those guys over there with the wrist bands and all that stuff getting the plays in."

Both quarterbacks enjoyed success throughout the night throwing the football. Junior tight end Jared Cook led the receiving corps with six receptions for 48 yards. Junior receiver Moe Brown, who has 22 career receptions in 22 games, had five catches for 63 yards, while senior Larry Freeman contributed four catches for 39 yards.

"I thought the offense had a pretty good scrimmage," Beecher said. "It was much improved from last Saturday, much more consistent. The passing game was clicking. We still need to work on the running game. And we need to improve on short yardage. The defense did some good things too."

Cook combined with Weslye Saunders (2 receptions for 34 yards) to give the tight end position a total of eight catches for 82 yards.

"Jared Cook made a bunch of catches again," Spurrier said. "He and Weslye (Saunders). The receivers got a few here and there. Moe Brown is catching everything this year. Moe's confidence level (is much) improved from his first couple of years here. He's developing.

"Freddie Brown is our slant specialist. He can catch the slant with guys hanging all over him. He does a good job there. Larry (Freeman) had another good scrimmage. Larry acts like he really wants to play this year. When Kenny (McKinley) gets back, we'll have a pretty good receiving bunch, I believe."

However, the offense had little success running the football, totaling 37 yards on 30 carries. Mike Davis, hobbled most of the spring with a nagging hamstring injury, had 16 yards on six carries, an average of 2.7 yards per carry. Eric Baker finished with six yards on seven carries, while Brian Maddox was credited with two yards on five rushes.

"We didn't run the ball very well," Spurrier said. "Our run defense looked good. Our run offense didn't look all that good. I didn't see many holes. There weren't many to run through. I think our defense against the run is hopefully going to be much, much improved from where we've been. We've got nowhere to go but up when you're at the bottom pof the league. I think we're going up."

Smelley directed an efficient seven-play drive on the first series of the scrimmage. He completed a 14-yard pass to Freeman on the first play and a 13-yard pass to Moe Brown on the thir play to advance the ball down to the 37.

Two plays later, on fourth-and-1, Ryan Succop booted a 45-yard field goal for the first points of the scrimmage.

Beecher took over for the second series and immediately hit a rollout pass to tight end Wesley Saunders for a 21-yard gain close to midfield.

After three more plays gained 20 yards (9-yard pass to Cook, 5-yard run by Maddox, Beecher scramble for 6 yards) and a defensive penalty, Beecher attempted as pass into the right corner of the end zone.

But true freshman cornerback Akeem Auguste made possibly the most spectacular play of the spring by a defendive player with a one-handed interception while falling backwards.

"I was just in the right time at the right place," Auguste said. "I think I was pretty lucky. I closed my eyes and put my hand up. I don't know, (I guess) it was a pretty good play. They said I got up there pretty high."

Smelley capped an 11-play drive on the third series with a 14-yard touchdown toss on third-down to tight end Jared Cook. The offense converted a pair of third downs on the possession, one on a 12-yard pass to redshirt freshman Jason Barnes over the middle.

On the ensuing play, Smelley connected with Moe Brown for 16 yards down to the 39-yard line. Three plays later, the offense faced a fourth-and-6 from the 35.

Smelley stepped up and coolly rifled a 18-yard pass to Freeman near the left sideline for a first down at the 17. After an incomplete pass and three-yard gain by Taylor Rank, Smelley flipped a pass over the middle to a waiting Cook, who beat his defender and stepped into the end zone for the score.

"On the first few drives we really moved the ball," Smelley said. "We were able to drive down the field. I thought we fumbled around a little bit in the red zone. But it was a better night."

Freshman Charles Whitlock handled the football on the first three plays of the fourth series, catching a pair of passes for a total of 24 yards and rushing for four yards in a reverse.

Beecher escaped a second-and-17 situation by completing 13-yard passes on consecutive play to Moe Brown and Saunders to move the ball to the 17.

After an eight-yard pass to Freeman, Beecher found Freeman on third down in the back middle of the end zone for a touchdown.

"Larry is a sdolid guy that we can always sgo toover ther middle," Smelley said. "He's got great hands. I think he'll step up into a bigger role this season."

After that, the worked USC worked on third-down situations. In nine plays, the offense converted the first down six times. Cook (15 yards), Davis (12 yards on swing pass) and Joe Hills (15 yards and 16 yards) had key receptions during the stretch.

Once the third-down practice concluded, the offense worked on third-and-goal plays from inside the five-yard line. On the second play, guard Heath Batchelor recovered a fumble by Mike Davis in the end zone.

Other scoring plays in this sequence included a TD scramble by Beecher, a 1-yard run by Davis, a 1-yard run by Baker on a pitch play and a short pass to Cook. Walk-on QB Michael McQueeney had a sneak for a TD on the final play.

The final segment of the scrimmage focused on overtime situations with the offense starting out at the 25-yard line. Freeman caught to passes during this stretch and handled the ball on a reverse. The longest pass play was a 9-yard connection to Lecorn.

"I thought we got some pretty good work done," Spurrier said. "Nobody got seriously hurt. Just a few bumps and bruises. The defense played well at times. The offense did a little bit here and there. Hopefully, we got some good pracatice in."

Ryan Succop 46-yard field goal
Jared Cook 14-yard pass from Chris Smelley (Succop kick)
Larry Freeman 9-yard pass from Tommy Beecher (Stephen Huegel kick)
Heath Batchelor fumble recovery in end zone
Tommy Beecher 5-yard run
Mike Davis 1-yard run
Eric Baker 1-yard run
Jared Cook 5-yard pass from Chris Smelley
Mike McQueeney 1-yard run
Brian Maddox 9-yard pass from Tommy Beecher

PASSING - Chris Smelley 19-14-0-143; Tommy Beecher 19-13-1-142; Mike McQueeney 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 38-27-1-285.

RUSHING - Mike Davis 6-16; Dion Lecorn 1-9; Eric Baker 7-6; Taylor Rank 3-7; Tommy Beecher 3-5; C.C. Whitlock 1-4; Brian
Maddox 5-2; Mike McQueeney 1-1; Larry Freeman 1-(-5); Chris Smelley 2-(-8). TOTALS: 30-37.

RECEIVING - Jared Cook 6-48; Moe Brown 5-63; Larry Freeman 4-39; Mike Davis 3-20; Weslye Saunders 2-34; Joe Hills 2-31; C.C. Whitlock 2-24; Jason Barnes 1-12; Brian Maddox 1-9, Freddie Brown 1-5. TOTALS: 27-285.

Practices Held - 10
Practices Left - 5
Next Practice - Wed., April 9, 7 p.m.

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