Not to sound the alarms, but this week is starting to feel a bit like the Vanderbilt week last season.
Now before you go hammering away on your keyboards about how I hate the Gamecocks, hear me out:
– Steve Spurrier announces during the week that the Gamecocks need to play two quarterbacks, never mind that USC was coming off a win the previous week (UNC in ’07; Tennessee in ’08).
– There’s a lot of talk, outside the program, anyway, about the team next up on the schedule (UT in ’07, Florida in ’08) and not a ton of buzz about that week’s game.
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– The whole early kickoff thing. Several USC players admitted they were still rubbing the sleep from their eyes in the locker room prior to the 12:30 p.m. kickoff against Vanderbilt. Saturday’s game starts a half-hour later at 1 p.m., but is the earliest the Gamecocks have kicked off at home this year.
And then, of course, there’s this: Arkansas, like Vandy, is a dangerous team.
The Razorbacks’ last two wins came over top-20 teams – No. 20 Auburn and 19th-ranked Tulsa. They have a senior quarterback in Casey Dick, who, though he won’t remind anyone of Tim Tebow, just passed for 385 yards against Tulsa, 2 yards shy of the school record.
Yeah, I know, Tulsa’s defense stinks. But it’s reasonable to think that a performance like that, regardless of the opponent, will help a quarterback’s confidence.
It will be up to Ellis Johnson’s defense to make sure Dick gets in no such rhythm Saturday … which brings us back to our first point.
Spurrier will pick his starting quarterback based on who looks best in warm-ups. He says Stephen Garcia and Chris Smelley will both play, and I’m sure Spurrier will stick with the hot hand.
The question is: Will either quarterback have the chance to get hot sharing reps?
Neither Smelley nor Blake Mitchell looked real comfortable last year against Vanderbilt, although chalk a lot of that up to the seven times they were sacked by the Commodores.
So while Spurrier checks out Smelley and Garcia in the pregame, it will be worth keeping an eye on the offensive line, which likely will have as much to say about the play of the quarterbacks as the quarterbacks themselves.
Bottom line: Although Michael Smith flirts with 100 yards, the Gamecocks overcome a couple of early turnovers and make sure there are no Vanderbilt flashbacks.
USC 27, Arkansas 17.