on October 1, 2007 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Gamecocks overcome changes

COLUMBIA (AP) — South Carolina linebacker Marvin Sapp stopped for a moment to make sure what he wanted to say.

The Gamecock junior had just helped his team to a 38-21 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday, a game when his team used a new young quarterback in Chris Smelley and played without all-star linebacker Jasper Brinkley.

Some teams would’ve fallen apart, Sapp agreed. Not the 11th-ranked Gamecocks.

“Well sir, I think it probably shows that a team is more than a person,” Sapp said.

Sapp played for Brinkley, the Gamecocks all-Southeastern Conference linebacker who had season-ending knee surgery this past week.

“Albeit, he’s a great linebacker and I’m honored to play in his place,” Sapp continued, “a team is exactly what it is, a group of people who work together for a common goal.”

Smelly, a freshman, took over at quarterback for fifth-year senior Blake Mitchell, benched during South Carolina’s 28-16 loss at LSU two games ago.

Smelley threw for 279 yards and two TDs and brought a smile to coach Steve Spurrier’s face. The head ball coach had groused about having to rely on a run game and defense to pull out victories.

Instead, Smelley connected for touchdown throws of 20 and 27 yards to Kenny McKinley, the last with 3:43 to go in the third quarter that put South Carolina ahead for good.

The defense without Brinkley also showed some strength, holding Mississippi State to 140 yards rushing and 118 through the air.

Sapp led the Gamecocks with eight tackles.

“That’s two big components of the team,” McKinley said.

So big that Spurrier spoke to his players about adjusting to the differences. “He elaborated on it and said we just have to come out and play,” said McKinley.

Mississippi State had come in with three straight victories. Yet, coach Sylvester Croom said South Carolina made the plays when it counted. “They did what they had to do to win and they deserve it,” he said.

Spurrier was as upbeat as he has been all season.

He enjoyed seeing his “Cock-n-Fire” finally stretch things out, something that hasn’t happened often in Spurrier’s three South Carolina seasons.

“It was fun, a good game for us to win,” Spurrier said. “To be behind in the third quarter, to keep playing, that was sort of neat.”

Spurrier hopes Smelley and the defense can keep it going, too.

Next up for South Carolina is surprising, unbeaten No. 8 Kentucky on Thursday night. “It’ll be one of the biggest we’ve had around here in a while,” Spurrier said.

Spurrier said Smelley would open up again in that one. The freshman is hopeful he can build on his success and keep the job.

Spurrier told Smelley earlier this week he would be in there the whole way against the Bulldogs. Smelly thinks he has showed he was worthy of his coach’s confidence. “I gave my all out there and did everything I could and hopefully I proved myself as a quarterback out there,” he said.

Smelley slipped into the cracks a bit during the offseason as Mitchell played his best stretch of football to rally South Carolina to three closing wins, and fans focused on incoming freshman QB Stephen Garcia.

Through it all, Smelley stayed positive. “I knew my time would come,” he said.

It may have arrived against Mississippi State.

For Spurrier, it also may have signaled that his Gamecock turnaround reached another critical stage — finding a quarterback he can believe in and a defense to get him the ball back.

“This game was encouraging for us,” Spurrier said. “If we can continue improving and find some guys who like to play, love to play, love to compete, who knows where it will lead to right now.”