After the first two well-executed series, the South Carolina offense was, as aptly described by Steve Spurrier, "sloppy."
But the head coach didn't seem upset, or even irritated. Instead, he felt the offense's inability to produce many yards or points following the initial outburst wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
Starting quarterback Tommy Beecher completed 15-of-30 passes for 123 yards and one touchdown in a 68-play "young players" scrimmage Wednesday night before an estimated crowd of 5,000 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The offense scored four touchdowns in 12 possessions, three by the pass. The defense registered one score when Chris Hail intercepted a Beecher throw and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown on the second play of the third possession.
"We moved the ball well early in the scrimmage and then it was tough for me," Beecher said. "I thought (Chris) Smelley played well. We just have to play better on offense. They were playing a lot of deep zones, I just need to handle my reads better and do a better job of getting the ball to the receivers. We'll work hard and watch the tape and learn from our mistakes."
The offense totaled 296 yards on 68 plays, an average of 4.4 yards per play.
"Our quarterback play wasn't nearly as good as I was hoping it was going to be," Spurrier said. "Hopefully, it will get better. There were some good plays here and there, but overall it was a pretty sloppy offensive performance. Our quarterbacks and receivers didn't play very well. Hopefully, we can get better."
With Mike Davis still sidelined with a left shoulder injury, sophomore Brian Maddox led all rushers with 48 yards on seven carries. All of his rushes came on the first possession of the night.
"I had an okay night. It could have been better," Maddox said. "I could have broken some longer runs than what I did. I feel I've taken advantage of seizing the moment (with Davis out) and focusing on what I have to do. I wanted to get back in there but they wouldn't le me go (in)."
Afterwards, he stood on the sidelines and watched less experienced backs like Eric Baker (before he suffered a slight concussion) and Kenny Miles handle the responsibilities of rushing the football.
"Brian Maddox had some good runs," Spurrier said.
Baker rushed six times for 12 yards before his injury, while Kenny Miles impressed the crowd with his speed en route to gaining 23 yards on four carries.
The offense raced up and down the field on its first two possessions, both of which culminated in touchdowns. But the USC offense tallied just two touchdowns on the final 10 drives.
"It was probably good for us that this happened," Spurrier said. "We'll let Tommy scrimmage some more."
Chris Smelley connected on 5-of-10 passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns to Nick Prochak and Joe Hills. Zac Brindise misfired on his only pass.
"I thought it went pretty well when I was in there," Smelley said. "The receivers ran some good routes and got open and I was able to find them and hit them a few times. Overall, I thought I had a pretty good scrimmage."
Beecher, set to make his first career start Aug. 28 in the season opener against N.C. State, took the lion's share of the snaps for the garnet-clad offense.
The storm clouds that pounded Columbia with several inches of rain in less than 24 hours had dissipated by the time the scrimmage got under way shortly before 8:30 p.m.
Maddox dominated the first possession, sparking the offense on a 12-play, 70-yard touchdown drive. Consecutive runs of 13 and 18 yards by the sophomore moved the ball down to the 18-yard line. From there, a 15-yard pass to Jared Cook (he lunged for the end zone but went out of bounds) set up the offense at the 3.
Two players plays, Maddox bulled over for the touchdown.
Beecher was 4-for-5 for 22 yards on the opening drive. He was 11-for-25 thereafter as he struggled to find open receivers. He often had to scramble away from pressure. Other times, he was reluctant to pull the trigger.
"I thought we would move the ball better, but we didn't, so we have a lot of coaching to do, especially with our quarterbacks." Spurrier said. "Tommy hasn't played much at all and I guess it was evident tonight.
"He got hung up and scrambled around and you can't do that much in our conference or any conference. Hopefully, we can coach him up better and get him ready to go in a couple of weeks. It is what it is and it's not very pretty."
Spurrier was specifically concerned about Beecher's lack of quick-decision making. Hence, he has taken on the role of a concerned parent who watches his child struggle to succeed.
"You have to get rid of it," Spurrier said. "He knows where (his receivers) all are, but his decision-making - he hasn't done a lot, he hasn't played a lot. That's why we left him out there and let him struggle. We'll see if he can learn from it and go from there.
"It was probably good for Tommy. He needs to understand that he hasn't done much yet."
Smelley, who won four of six starts last season, took over for the second possession and wasted little time putting the offense into scoring position by completing 28 and 24 yard passes to C.C. Whitlock and Jason Barnes, respectively, on the first two plays.
A face-mask penalty on Whitlock helped set up the offense at the 3-yard line. Three plays later, Smelley found Nick Prochak alone over the middle for an easy touchdown.
Smelley completed 3-of-5 passes for 55 yards in the drive. Whitlock finished as the scrimmage's top receiver, catching four passes for 54 yards.
Moments after the second score of the night, Hail stepped in front of a Beecher pass and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown. The Pick-6 appeared to send the offense into a funk, however, as the next three possessions went nowhere.
"They blitzed and our back went and hooked up," Spurrier said. "Tommy threw it late and (Hail) stepped in front and got it. That's one of those things that I'm glad happened. Hopefully, he can learn from that."
The scoring drought for the offense finally ended on the seventh possession thanks in large part to an ill-advised penalty on the field goal block team when Ryan Duccop's 55-yard attempt ricocheted off the crossbar.
Awarded a new set of downs, the offense took advantage of the miscue by scoring a touchdown three plays later when Smelley hit Joe Hills perfectly in stride while the 6-foot-4 receiver from Palmetto, Fla. had defender Akeem Auguste beat by a step in the left corner of the end zone.
"That was probably the best throw-and-catch of the night," Spurrier said. "Chris made a god throw there. Other than that, there weren't a lot of pretty plays out here."
The offense fired blanks over the next four series before Beecher directed the offense on a 14-play march on the final possession of the scrimmage. Beecher and Jason Barnes combined on a fourth-down touchdown play from 15 yards out.
The biggest play of the drive was a 20-yard pass to Whitlock. DiMarco, trying to play both fullback and tight end, had two receptions on the drive as well.
DiMarco served as the running back for the final series when injuries had depleted the backfield depth.
"We did have some of our running backs get dinged a little bit," Spurrier said. "We started with six tailbacks and ended up with DiMarco there."
Brian Maddox 2-yard run (Ryan Succop kick)
Nick Prochak 3-yard pass from Chris Smelley (Succop kick)
Chris Hail 45-yard interception return
Joe Hills 25-yard pass from Smelley (Succop kick)
Jason Barnes 15-yard pass from Tommy Beecher
PASSING: Tommy Beecher 15-30-1-123; Chris Smelley 5-10-0-85; Zac Brindise 0-1-0-0. TEAM: 20-41-1-208.
RUSHING: Brian Maddox 7-48; Kenny Miles 4-23; Eric Baker 6-12; Matt Clements 1-7; Chris Smelley 1-4; Patrick DiMarco 2-(-2); Tommy Beecher 6-(-4). TEAM: 27-88.
RECEIVING: C.C. Whitlock 4-54; Patrick DiMarco 3-11; Jason Barnes 2-39; Stephen Flint 2-20; Moe Brown 2-13; Joe Hills 1-25; Jared Cook 1-12; Eric Baker 1-12; Yvan Banag 1-9; Kenny Miles 1-5; Paul Haile 1-5; Nick Prochak 1-3. TEAM: 20-208.
BEECHER STILL THE STARTER: Although Chris Smelley may have outperformed Tommy Beecher in Wednesday night's scrimmage, head coach Steve Spurrier emphatically said nothing has changed in terms of the quarterback position - Beecher will remain the starter.
"Chris Smelley did a few good things here and there, and he probably out-graded Tommy tonight," Spurrier said. "But Tommy's the starter and we'll go from there."
But Spurrier issued this warning - his patience with the redshirt junior from Concord, N.C. won't last forever.
"If he's going to play, he can't play like this," Spurrier said. "We have to help him some too. It was good for all of us. But we can't watch what happened tonight all year. We're not going to watch that. He's got to get better and we have to coach him better and all that stuff. That's why we practice, to make mistakes and learn from them. I certainly hope he'll learn when we watch the tape."
Beecher is scheduled to make his first career start against the Wolfpack on Aug. 28. He has completed 16 of 25 passes (64.0 percent) for 194 yards and two touchdowns in his career.
HUNT SEES IT BOTH WAYS: Wednesday night's scrimmage was a hit-and-miss affair for offensive line coach John Hunt. He saw some things he liked, but other things that made him frown.
"It's like a coach once said, it probably isn't as bad as you think it is or as good as you think it is," Hunt said. "I'm hoping it's not as bad as I think it is. I wasn't very pleased at how my group came out here. Heck, it was a beautiful cool night for football, and I just feel that as a group we didn't come out ready to play, but I'm hoping the tape will prove me wrong."
Except for right tackle Justin Sorensen and right guard Heath Batchelor, nearly every other healthy offensive lineman saw some action. Jarriel King did not play after suffering an injury in practice Tuesday night.
"I kept Sorenson and Batchelor out and mixed everyone else, and early on we did pretty well," Hunt said. "Later, we did lousy. When you have a lot of young guys, you're going get mistakes and things like that. We want to see which guys can play with the fans in the stands. As I said, it'll be interesting to see what the tape shows."
JOHNSON PLEASED WITH EFFORT: Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was fairly pleased with the performance of the Gamecock defense in Wednesday night's scrimmage when he played mostly young and inexperienced players on the second and third teams.
"I thought we did a pretty good job considering we didn't play a lot of our front line guys," Johnson said. "We wanted to get the guys out there that can help us this year, but have very little experience. We were able to get film on them to evaluate and I think a lot of guys helped themselves. Guys who haven't played much were able to step up and make some plays."
The defense surrendered a pair of touchdowns on the first two drives of the scrimmage before clamping down for most of the rest of the scrimmage. The USC offense managed just two touchdowns the rest of the way.
"We had a lot of the new guys get out there and we've got some good film to show us who stepped up and did some good things," Johnson said.
LAWING LOVES THE LINDSEYS: Brad Lawing is an old school type coach, so he appreciates players that he believes could have thrived in a bygone era. USC has two players like that - Dustin and Jordin Lindsey.
"They like to play football," Lawing said. "They're throwback players. They really are. A lot of kids today have to be pampered and prodded and you have to de-recruit them when you first get them here. They're not like that. They're like the kids I grew up with that really enjoyed playing football and play for the love of the game. There's no hidden agenda. There's nothing else in it for them."
Lawing said one of the things that makes the Lindseys solid players is they don't let anything rattle them and they're willing to play aggressively and quickly pursue the ball carrier to the point of attack.
"They have the right nervous system to be defensive players," Lawing said. "Not all kids have that. Football is different from any game in the world because it's the only game where the object is not to get the ball, but get the man that has the ball. The Lindsays like going to get the man with the ball."
-- Spurrier and co-host Todd Ellis will conduct the first call-in show of the 2008 season on Thursday night at 7 p.m. from Wild Wings Café in the Vista.
-- The Gamecocks practiced for an hour on the water-logged Bluff Road practice fields before crossing the street into Williams-Brice Stadium.
-- Eleven players wore yellow jerseys on Wednesday: Jasper Brinkley, Taylor Rank, Jarriel King, Marque Hall, Dustyn McElroy (W/O), Reggie Bowens, Stephen Garcia, Kevin Young, Melvin Ingram, Mike Davis and Jamon Meredith.
-- The Gamecocks will return to the Bluff Road practice fields on Thursday at 3 p.m. for a scheduled 90-minute workout.
-- Besides Eric Baker's concussion Wednesday, Taylor Rank suffered a concussion on Tuesday. Bobby Wallace was "gippy" after being hit in the thigh a couple of nights ago.
-- Spurrier said the offensive line was "pretty decent" because "the pressure on the quarterbacks wasn't extreme."
-- Spurrier said Saturday's full-team scrimmage may be open to the public. "I like them being here because some of our guys get a little nervous and they need to play in front of some people," Spurrier said.
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