1. The Tommy Beecher Experiment: Pull the plug.
Sure, it's easier to come in when the opposing defense is worn down and put up the points. But consider this: With Beecher at quarterback, the Gamecocks' longest two drives were 34 yards each, and South Carolina scored 13 points. With Smelley under center, the Gamecocks had scoring drives of 60, 69 and 74 yards and scored 21 points. And it's not just that Smelley (5-of-5, 92 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs) was measurably better than Beecher (12-of-22, 106 yards, 0 TDs, 4 INTs). The entire offense seemed to kick it up a notch with Smelley. Mike Davis with Beecher: 7 rushes, 11 yards. Mike Davis with Smelley: 7 rushes, 90 yards. Beecher could be a fit for a running quarterback, situational role. But nothing he showed me Thursday indicated he can start in the SEC.
2. Balancing McKinley
No one necessarily emerged as a consistent No. 2 receiver Thursday. But several players contributed to a balanced passing attack that could free up Kenny McKinley by forcing the defense to look everywhere else. McKinley had six of the team's 17 receptions, or a little more than a third. But also chipping in were Moe Brown (2), Dion LeCorn (2), Freddie Brown (2), Jared Cook (2) and Jason Barnes (1). Mike Davis also caught a pair of passes. And the yardage leader was Moe Brown (47). Sure, there needs to be a true No. 2 eventually. But a consistent backup cast could do the job for now.
3. The offensive line
This was still a problem spot. But, again, they almost unquestionably played better after Smelley got in. This could have had more to do with the N.C. State defense tiring. It wasn't that they got dominated; my count on the play-by-play comes up with four sacks, three in the first half. All of them were taken by Beecher. But they got beaten more than they should have, and some of the trouble in getting the run started came more from what the front was doing than from what the backs were doing. And there were far too many false-start penalties.
4. The defense's day
There's not much bad you can say about a shutout. If there was one saving grace of the first half, it was the defense. On the game, they forced four turnovers and allowed N.C. State only 138 yards. They dominated the Wolfpack's offense line, particularly early on. They frustrated the N.C. State quarterbacks with constant pressure. Yards per rush? 2.4 -- I think Ellis Johnson improved things a bit. Sure, there was room for improvement here and there, but this was a great start.
5. Mike Davis redeemed
Last year, Mike Davis had one 100-yard the entire year. Granted, he was a backup. And, granted, he was playing against one of the worst run defenses in the ACC on Thursday. But he already has as many century-mark efforts this season as he did all of last year. It was everything we've come to expect from him: the somersault into the end zone and a burst when he got into space. He also ran tough.
The second half saves what was an abysmal start to the game. The defense played well throughout, even if they began to tire in the second quarter as the offense put them on short field after short field. But they never allowed the Wolfpack to score; indeed, a failed 49-yard FG was as close as N.C. State ever got. The 34-0 score is deceptive, but this was the first game of the year. With a bit of improvement, this team could evolve into a solid team. We did not see greatness Thursday night, but we saw something better than last year's first effort.