By PETE IACOBELLI
AP Sports Writer
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The offense has been spotty and the quarterback so inconsistent the twice-benched senior might get another shot Saturday. Most receivers can't get open and, if they do, don't always hold onto the ball.
Steve Spurrier has probably never had a less productive offense that has contended for a Southeastern Conference - and national championship.
``Our expectations are up there a bit,'' Spurrier said. ``We have to play a whole bunch better, coach better, to come close or even have a chance at achieving all of our goals.''
Right now, those benchmarks are still in reach for the sixth-ranked Gamecocks (6-1, 3-1 SEC), who take on Vanderbilt (3-3, 1-3) on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.
A win would push Spurrier to 15-0 all-time against the Commodores and equal South Carolina's best mark since 2000. It would also probably get the Gamecocks into the top 5 because of second-ranked South Florida's 30-27 loss to Rutgers on Thursday. It could also stamp the Gamecocks a legitimate contender for the BCS crown.
Spurrier entered the season simply hoping his team played like it belonged in the SEC race. Despite an offense that stands 88th nationally, the Gamecocks look like they're in the running for much more than a conference title.
Everything South Carolina has discussed is ``still out there after seven weeks,'' Spurrier said. ``So we're in position if we can really start playing a whole bunch better.''
Especially on offense, which has got to rankle Spurrier the most.
He made his reputation - along with winning a national championship - with his offensive, ``Fun-n-Gun'' powerhouses for 12 seasons at Florida.
Too often this year, South Carolina's gone with the ``Cock-n-(Mis)Fire.''
Fifth-year senior passer Blake Mitchell was benched three games despite leading the team to a road win at ranked Georgia. Freshman Chris Smelley has looked strong at times (three first-half TD passes as South Carolina led North Carolina 21-3) and clueless at others (he threw for just 39 yards in the second half of the Gamecocks 21-15 win over the Tar Heels.)
``Hopefully, someday, though, we'll have a line that can really block, that we can run and throw and stay on the field and make some yards and not be like 88th in the country in offense,'' a frustrated Spurrier said.
Until then, Spurrier might ride his defense all the way to a championship.
The group is 14th in the country, allowing just 16.6 points a game, and the unit has a knack for big plays at the right time.
Two games ago, defensive end Eric Norwood returned two fumbles for touchdowns in South Carolina's biggest win so far, a 38-23 victory over Kentucky.
Safety Emanuel Cook had a fourth-quarter interception last week to hold off a North Carolina drive during its comeback.
The Gamecocks could have their hands full with Vanderbilt and its top receiver Earl Bennett. The junior had his breakout game at Williams-Brice two years ago with 16 receptions and 204 yards in catches in South Carolina's 35-28 win.
Back then, Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson had NFL passer Jay Culter delivering the ball. ``That's all in the past now,'' Johnson said.
Bennett is three catches away from Craig Yeast's SEC mark of 208.
The Commodores are coming off a disappointing result, falling to Georgia 20-17 on a field goal as time ran out.
``I'm not going to lie. It's pretty tough'' to rebound from a last-second loss like that, Vanderbilt defensive end Curtis Gatewood said. ``But I think the thing that helped us out the most is that the coaches stayed positive.''
Spurrier has been anything but positive about his offense this year. So he said Mitchell will play Saturday, and the head ball coach hopes the time on the bench works as well as it did a year ago when the struggling quarterback sat out several games and returned to play his best football at the end of the season.
After Vanderbilt, comes big tests with Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida and Clemson.
Mitchell owns victories over the Vols, Gators and rival Tigers during his career, something no other quarterback on South Carolina's roster - or few others in Gamecocks' history - can claim.
So far, Spurrier's attack has done just enough to keep winning. The ball coach has his fingers crossed.
``We've maximized our chances and hopefully we continue,'' he said. ``You don't know if we will or not.''
Source: ncaafootball.com; Photo Credit: SEC Sports Media