November 9, 2008

Notebook: QB Twist Works Well

The first time Steve Spurrier rotated quarterbacks every play was the 1997 Florida State game when he thought Seminole coaches were trying to steal signals.

Saturday, he reverted to the same system with Stephen Garcia and Chris Smelley rotating nearly every play. The constant substitution paid off in a 34-21 victory over Arkansas in which the two quarterbacks combined to complete 13 of 30 passes for 219 yards.

"We said we were going to play both of them, so why not just send them in with the play", Spurrier said. "Stephen can't get the signals, anyway. We talked about it earlier in the week. I said whoever starts the second guy might be in there on the second play. It eliminates signals and getting up there early and crowd noise. One of them hasn't separated himself, so it's not a bad way to do it."

The rotation began immediately when Smelley took the first snap of the game before giving way to Garcia, who completed a 30-yard pass to Kenny McKinley and rushed 14 yards for a TD on his first two plays from scrimmage.

"It was interesting," Smelley said. "We practiced it a little bit this week. We weren't exactly sure how we were going to do it, but it worked out. We got the win, which is what we came out here to do."

Will USC use the two-quarterback rotation system next week in Gainesville against powerful Florida? Spurrier was non-committal after the game, though he hinted USC may utilize it again.

"We may or may not," Spurrier said. "We don't want to give away too much information. But it eliminates crowd noise. It eliminates signals. But we do have to come up with some new formations. We used most of our rinky-dink formations today. We'll find some new ones for Florida next week."

Although he completed just 4 of 11 passes for 71 yards, Garcia carried five times for 35 yards, an average of 7.0 yards per carry.

"I thought both quarterbacks played pretty decent, all things considered," Spurrier said. "I wish one would play extremely better than the other. Chris was a little better statistically, but Stephen did some decent things.

"But it just seems like offensively we get some guys open but we just don't make contact. We hit a few. We didn't throw it around like we hoped."

One of Garcia's four completions was a TD pass on a well-executed fade route to Kenny McKinley into the right corner of the end zone.

"I was able to give him that fade route to Kenny on that funny formation," Spurrier said. "We're probably better in funny formations than normal (formations). We used a lot of those today."

BOWL SCENARIOS: With Kentucky and Tennessee both losing Saturday, USC is assured of no worse than being tied for the third highest number of wins in the SEC with seven at the end of the day. It also increased USC's chances of earning a bid to either the Outback Bowl in Tampa or the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.

"Everybody wants to get into a bowl," Smelley said. "We missed out on it last year. It feels good to get back there. Hopefully, with these next two games, we can make it to as big of a bowl game that we possibly can."

Representatives from the Chick-fil-A Bowl were on hand Saturday to watch the Gamecocks gain a measure of revenge against the Razorbacks for last season's 48-36 loss in Fayetteville. USC hasn't played in the Atlanta-based bowl since 1969.

"We always have a keen interest in South Carolina, especially with Coach Spurrier," Chick-fil-A Bowl representative Art Gregory said. "But it's all a function of what's available to us when it's our time to select. There's a lot of football left to be played. Depending on how South Carolina finishes the season, as well as the other teams in the SEC, we'll have a better fix on selection day how strong of a candidate they are for our bowl. With seven or eight wins, I would think they would be pretty strong."

The Chick-fil-A has fifth selection in the SEC bowl selection process following the BCS, Capital One Bowl (Orlando), Outback Bowl (Tampa) and Cotton Bowl (Dallas). The features a matchup between a SEC team and the No. 2 selection from the ACC. Right now, there's a good possibility the SEC could get two teams - most likely Alabama and Florida - into the BCS.

"Obviously, we have to see if the BCS will use a wild-card pick to take a second team (from the SEC)," Gregory said. "That impacts us considerably."

Of course, Garcia continues to hope the Gamecocks face a Big 10 opponent in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day, which is played at Raymond James Stadium in his hometown of Tampa, Fla.

"If we play like we can and beat Florida next week, that would be huge for us," Garcia said. "That's what we're going to focus on doing. Going back home for a bowl game would be unbelievable for us."

RUN ALL DAY: Leading 27-14, USC forced a punt from Arkansas and took over at the its 28. What followed was one of the most impressive drives of the season. The Gamecocks ran the ball 11 straight plays with Mike Davis and Eric Baker sharing the load.

"Eric Baker and Mike Davis made some nice runs there to secure the game in the fourth quarter," Spurrier said. "That's what you'd like to do. You'd like to get a two-touchdown lead and run out the fourth quarter and win the game. We haven't been able to do that quite well enough."

Davis had six carries for 32 yards, including an 13-yard jaunt through the heart of the Arkansas defense on a first-down play for USC's fourth touchdown of the afternoon.

Baker had five carries for 37 yards on the drive and finished with a team-high 59 yards. He ripped off a 20-yard run on the second play from scrimmage.

"Eric did make some cuts and did run up in there and find a little crease and fall forward," Spurrier said. "That's something we haven't had much of. We've had a whole bunch of two-yard runs. Eric got us some five and seven yard runs. He almost broke a long one. It was encouraging."

The key drive chewed up 6:22 off the clock. When Arkansas finally got the ball back, just 6:21 remained in the contest. The Razorbacks commenced a 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that consumed all but 1:18 of the clock.

SPURRIER CRITICIZES CULLIVER: Spurrier was seething after the game about defensive back/kickoff returner Chris Culliver getting ejected from the game with just over a minute remaining when he threw a punch at an Arkansas player along the sidelines. Culliver was part of USC's "good hands" team on an on-sides kick.

Under NCAA rules, since Culliver was on the field, he must miss the first half of next Saturday's game at Florida. Afterwards, Spurrier lashed out at the sophomore for what he described as a "selfish" play. He added that he apologized to the Arkansas players involved and to the Razorback coaches.

"It was an unbelievably selfish play on his part," Spurrier said without mentioning Culliver by name. "It was sad ending to a good game. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't I saw him in there swinging away. I guess he was the only one. We all know you can't do that. If we had lost because of all that stuff, we'd really be mad.

"It was embarrassing for me and our coaches that we've got a player out there swinging. But it's history now and hopefully it won't happen again. I apologized to the Arkansas guys and the coaches that we had a guy doing that. It was inexcusable."

MCKINLEY ENJOYS LAST TIME AT WILLIAMS-BRICE: A months after setting the all-time receptions record, Kenny McKinley closed out his career a Williams-Brice Stadium by become the school's all-time leader in receiving yardage. He eclipsed former leader Sterling Sharpe with a 30-yard reception on USC's second play from scrimmage early in the fourth quarter. The play led to a 14-yard TD run by Garcia moments later.

"I never thought about being the all-time leader (in catches and yards), but it happened," McKinley said. "I'm very happy and proud. I had some mixed emotions when the game ended. I was sad because it was my last time playing in front of the greatest fans. But I was also happy because we got this big win. I'm going to go celebrate with my family and then start getting ready for Florida."

McKinley ended the final home game of his record-breaking career with seven receptions for 130 yards, tying his season high for catches and setting a new season high for receiving yards. McKinley needed just 26 receiving yards in Saturday's game against Arkansas to pass Sharpe in that category. McKinley has now caught a pass in 40 straight games, breaking his own school record.

Here is where McKinley stands on the two lists for career receptions and receiving yardage:

GAMECOCK CAREER RECEPTION LEADERS:
1. KENNY MCKINLEY (2005-Present) - 188
2. Sterling Sharpe (1983, 1985-87) - 169
3. Zola Davis (1995-98) - 164
4. Robert Brooks (1988-91) - 156
5. Jermale Kelly (1997-2000) - 153

GAMECOCK CAREER RECEIVING YARDAGE LEADERS:
1. KENNY MCKINLEY (2005-Present) - 2,602
2. Sterling Sharpe (1983, 1985-87) - 2,497
3. Zola Davis (1995-98) - 2,354
4. Sidney Rice (2005-06) - 2,233
5. Robert Brooks (1988-91) - 2,211

Spurrier is confident the senior from Mableton, Ga. will excel at the NFL level.

"He knows how to get open and he catches everything and he knows how to move forward," Spurrier said. "I really think Kenny will be an outstanding players (in the NFL). He's a real good player. He had seven (catches) today. I was hoping he's get about 15."

THE ARKANSAS PERSPECTIVE: Arkansas fell behind by 10 points early in Saturday's matchup with USC and never fully recovered. They climbed to within six points late in the third quarter but gave up consecutive touchdown drives to the Gamecocks following the game-turning interception by Jordin Lindsey on the final play of the third quarter.

Arkansas has 309 total yards, 177 in the second half when the Razorbacks scored a pair of touchdowns. In their first five possessions, the Razorbacks totaled six yards of offense. The loss dropped Arkansas to 4-6 overall, 1-5 in the SEC.

"That's a disappointing game for me," Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said. "I didn't like the way we came out offensively in the first half. We were unable to move the ball, unable to execute. I did feel like our defense was playing really hard and doing some good things. They kept us in the game. But I thought we should have played a lot better than that."

The Hogs must win their final two regular season games, including the traditional season-ender against LSU, to earn a bowl trip. They have a bye week next Saturday before facing Mississippi State in Starkville on Nov. 22.

"We have put ourselves in a corner," defensive tackle Malcolm Shepard said. "We need two games to get to a bowl and we only have two games left. It's going to be a tough week. We need to prepare for a hard practice because we definitely have to be ready for Mississippi State."

SEC SCHEDULE (11/8):
Georgia 42, Kentucky 38
Wyoming 13, Tennessee 7
Auburn 37, Tennessee-Martin 20
Alabama 27, LSU 21 (OT)
Florida at Vanderbilt, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)

Open: Ole Miss (5-4), Mississippi State (3-6)

SEC East Standings (Prior to UF-Vandy Game): Florida 5-1, Georgia 5-2, Vanderbilt 3-2, South Carolina 4-3, Kentucky 2-4, Tennessee 1-5.

NEXT WEEK (11/15): USC travels to Gainesville next Saturday to take on No. 4 Florida at The Swamp. Other key SEC games on that date include Mississippi State at Alabama, Georgia at Auburn and Vanderbilt at Kentucky. Non-conference matchups include Louisiana-Monroe at Ole Miss and Troy at LSU.

MISCELLANEOUS: With a 4-3 conference record, USC is assured of finishing at least .500 in the SEC for the sixth time since the Gamecocks joined the league in 1992. . .Steve Spurrier moved into a tie with Warren Giese for seventh place on USC's all-time wins list with 28. Spurrier is 28-19 in his fourth season in Columbia. . .The 34 points on Saturday tied a season high for USC. They also scored 34 points in the season opening shutout win over N.C. State. . .The USC defense had three interceptions and six sacks on Saturday. The three picks established a season high. . .Saturday's marked the 17th all-time meeting between USC and Arkansas in a series dating back to 1992 when the two schools joined the SEC together. USC now trails in the series, 10-7. . .The USC defense has surrendered just 27 points following the 25 turnovers committed by the offense this season. . .RB Mike Davis now needs 130 yards to catch Cory Boyd for 10th place on USC's all-time rushing list. . .Addison Williams collected his first career interception in the first quarter. . .The 54-yard field goal by Ryan Succop in the first quarter tied for the third-longest in school history. Scott Haigler had a 54-yarder in 1983. Succop owns the second longest FG in school history, a 55-yarder at Vanderbilt in 2006. . .Spencer Lanning's 53-yard punt was the longest of his career, besting his previous career high of 52 yards. . .The USC defense held Arkansas scoreless in the first quarter, marking the eighth time this season the Gamecocks have not surrendered a TD in the opening 15 minutes. . .The 66-yard TD pass from Chris Smelley to Jared Cook was USC's longest pass play. . .Stoney Woodson registered his eighth career interception on the final play of the second quarter. . .Eric Norwood established a career high with three sacks. He extended his own school record for tackles for loss to 39.0. . .Spurrier confirmed that RJr. QB Tommy Beecher will graduate before the start of next season and will not return to the Gamecocks next season.


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