Steve Spurrier just can't avoid quarterback controversies.
South Carolina's coach had intended since April for junior Tommy Beecher to lead the Gamecocks. But after Beecher threw four interceptions in his first start and backup Chris Smelley led three fourth-quarter touchdown drives in South Carolina's 34-0 win over North Carolina State on Thursday night, Spurrier's opened things up under center for next week's Southeastern Conference opener at Vanderbilt.
"Chris Smelley did come in and play very well. We'll have to wsatch the tape, analyze it to see what in the world happened to Tommy," Spurrier said.
Spurrier really had no choice, not after the performances of Beecher and Smelley.
Beecher, a fourth-year junior, completed 12 of 22 passes for 106 yards and those four awful picks. He came out late in the third quarter, the Gamecocks citing a head injury.
Smelley, a sophomore who started six games last season, looked smooth and confident as he connected on fourth-quarter touchdowns of 20 yards to Dion LeCorn and 13 yards to Jared Cook.
"I went out there and gave it everything I had," Smelley said. "I'd like to play next week. It's the thing I've been working for. We'll see how it goes."
Mike Davis and Taylor Rank added rushing touchdown to grow Spurrier's opening-week victory streak to 16 in a row.
The Wolfpack, shutout 37-0 by Maryland to end last season, were held scoreless in consecutive games for the first time since 1956.
For Spurrier, it was also the first taste of victory since last October when a 21-15 win at North Carolina pushed the Gamecocks to 6-1 and had him cocky about bigger things ahead.
Instead, South Carolina collapsed with five-straight defeats, the longest stretch of Spurrier's stellar career.
And for three quarters, this had to be torture for South Carolina's head ball coach, famed for his quick trigger on bad quarterbacks.
Beecher was given the job by Spurrier in April despite throwing three interceptions in South Carolina's closing spring scrimmage. Ever since, Spurrier has stood solidly in Beecher's corner repeating the junior would have a chance to go the distance for the Gamecocks this season.
Beecher looked shaky from the start. He was intercepted by Jimmaul Simmons less than three minutes in, then took the first of his five sacks to end South Carolina's next series.
Beecher was picked off twice more before the half. Spurrier finally showed his trademark fire, tossing his visor, headset and game notes after Beecher's third interception sailed over receiver Moe Brown and into the hands of Justin Byers.
Maybe he bit his tongue, or repeated a calming mantra, but Spurrier continued to send Beecher back out in spite of the mistakes.
Beecher did not come out to talk with reporters.
Beecher was two interceptions shy of the Gamecocks single-game mark, set by Glenn Morris in a 17-7 loss to Clemson in 1971.
Lucky for the Gamecocks' their defense was there to clean up the mess.
The group, headed by new coordinator Ellis Johnson, bottled up the Wolfpack throughout. North Carolina State had just 117 yards and eight first downs through three quarters.
The closest the Wolfpack came to scoring was Josh Czajkowski missing a 49-yard field goal attempt.
South Carolina linebacker Eric Norwood recovered a botched shotgun snap at the Wolfpack 9 right before halftime that led to Ryan Succop's 29-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Then on the Wolfpack's second play after halftime, Carlos Thomas stepped in front of a Daniel Evans pass for an interception at the North Carolina State 9. Four plays later, Davis lept into the end zone.
That was more than enough points to hold off the Wolfpack.
North Carolina State coach Tom O'Brien said his staff would have to reevaluate what they'd done so far and make corrections. "Basically, a tough start. The game was fine until the last series we fumbled the ball at the half, the first series of the second half, we let it gete away from us," he said. "From there, it seemed to go downhill."
Afterward, Johnson got a gameball from Spurrier. "I thought we played OK. It's not time to start breaking out the champagne or anything," Johnson said.
Davis finished with 101 yards, the senior's fourth career game of at least 100.
The game's most frightening moment came when Wolfpack freshman Russell Wilson, starting his first game, was carted off the field. Wilson was motionless as he was strapped to backboard and rolled onto a cart. He extended his thumbs upward to acknowledge the cheers of the players and fans at Williams-Brice Stadium.
North Carolina State officials announced Wilson had a grade-three concussion and was doing well after going to the hospital. He was scheduled for more tests.
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