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FIVE POINTS: at LSU

1. The Era of Mitchell is over. And it should be. Head Ball Coach announced after the game that Chris Smelley will start against Mississippi State.

After an interception on his second series, Smelley settled down to throw for 174 yards and lead USC to a pair of fourth-quarter scores. Spurrier said Smelley played well enough to start next week against Mississippi State.

"Smelley's going to start. You can write that down," Spurrier said. "We don't need any suspense."

I'm not surprised, and I wouldn't be surprised if this is something Spurrier had been contemplating for a while.

First, on the likely reasoning. Not only to Smelley play better and move the ball better than Blake, it seemed, at least to my eyes, that Spurrier was allowing Smelley to use a bit more of the offense than Blake. That indicates he has more confidence in Smelley than in Mitchell.

As for the timing, consider this: South Carolina started off the season with two brutal SEC road games in a four game stretch. Now that Georgia and LSU are out of the way, Mississippi State and Kentucky come to Columbia before a road game against North Carolina and a home game against Vanderbilt over the next four games. Why put Smelley in for games at Georgia and at LSU, giving him a chance to lose two of his first four games, when Mitchell can serve as a caretaker and maybe redeem himself in the process?

Again, this move might have been in the offing for some time. Saturday just confirmed that it should happen.


Out. For good?

2. In the trenches. The offensive line had a mixed day, giving up three sacks against a defense that was averaging 4.3 a game, an encouraging sign for a unit that was supposed to get knocked around even by foes less talented than LSU. But there were some knock-downs that didn't show up in the final stats, and the Gamecocks ran for just 17 yards on 27 carries, an average of 0.6 for the game. (Stats here and here.)

Far more discouraging was the play of the defensive line, which was supposed to be better than its offensive counterpart this year. They got manhandled. South Carolina gave up 290 yards on the ground, continuing to get gashed on the run. (Hello, Darren McFadden. Hello, Tim Tebow.) The Gamecocks managed only one sack, and one that set the Tigers back just six yards.

Through four games, opponents have rushed for an average of 216.5 yards against the Gamecocks.

Defensive end Eric Norwood said teams will continue to run against USC until the Gamecocks prove they can stop it.

"That's what we want them to do because we're going to get better at it," Norwood said. "You probably couldn't tell this week, but we're going to strap it up and get better."

They better. Or a promising season could become a lost one very quickly.

3. The fourth-down calls. I didn't like either of the questionable fourth-down calls. The first one seemed to be just plain stubborn: When your run has been stuffed all day and you're deep in your own territory, you run on fourth down? Really?

The second, the field goal attempt late in the game, seemed to be a white flag. 'Splain.

"They were flooding the end zone back there. We didn't have a play we didn't think we could score with," Spurrier said. "I didn't know what to call. Didn't have a run. When they zone up, you usually try to run. But we couldn't budge those guys. They were too big, too strong up front for us."

First of all, give LSU credit. Any time Steve Spurrier says he doesn't know what to call, you've done an excellent job on defense.

But I still don't agree with kicking the ball. It did make the score more respectable for the box-score pollsters that make the influential decisions, but that's not the purpose of playing the game. The purpose is to win, and the only way to win at that point was to score a touchdown. It still would have been difficult. Kicking the ball, though, was a white flag.

4. Going against LSU. Overall, the 16 points scored by the Gamecocks were the most by any team facing LSU this year. Granted, nine of them came in the fourth quarter, with the Bayou Bengals up 28-7, but it didn't seem like garbage time, and no other opponent (all of whom were getting blown out by far wider margins) have been able to do that.

The Gamecocks' 261 yards amounts to more than 40 percent of the offense generated against the Tigers in all four games. They were 8-of-16 on third-down attempts and continued their perfect red-zone streak with a 3-for-3 day inside the 20-yard line.

Meanwhile, the 28 points by LSU were not only the fewest surrendered to the Tigers, the game marked the first time the Bengals were held to under 40 all season. (Their average, even after Saturday, is 41.2.) LSU rang up 360 yards total, almost a full 100 short of their usual 452.5 yards. (The average was 483.3 before they played the Gamecocks.)

How much of that was because of a gimpy Matt Flynn and the sloppy conditions? Who knows? But, so far, South Carolina appears to have been the best defense LSU has faced.

5. Races and rankings. The Gamecocks fell four spots in the AP Poll, to No. 16, which is pretty fair for a loss (as the AP Poll goes, anyway). They fell to No. 21(!) in the USA TODAY poll, cast by sports information directors coaches, an excessive seven-spot plunge that puts them five spots behind a team they beat on the road.

South Carolina debuts at No. 17 in the Harris Poll.

As for the SEC East race, it's important to understand that, with the loss coming to an SEC West team, South Carolina still controls its own destiny. The Gamecocks have the tiebreaker over Georgia and will have it over Kentucky or Florida should they defeat those two teams. (The same applies to Tennessee, should the Volunteers manage to show a pulse.) However, the margin of error is much slimmer now, and the game against Arkansas, while it doesn't look too intimidating after the last couple of weeks, could go from "important" to "must-win."

OVERALL GRADE: C-. The Gamecocks were expected to be outmanned Saturday, and they did better than I thought they would. But they still lost, and they still were outplayed.

Poll

Grade the Gamecocks.

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  • 6%
    A
    (3 votes)
  • 41%
    B
    (18 votes)
  • 27%
    C
    (12 votes)
  • 6%
    D
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  • 16%
    F
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