Spurrier Praises Garcia

Gamecock quarterback Stephen Garcia rises through struggles and criticism to lead the Gamecocks to the biggest victory in school history, a 35-21 win over #1 Alabama Saturday in Columbia. Following the game South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier had nothing but praise for his quarterback.

Over the past two and a half years, there has not been a bigger Stephen Garcia critic than South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier. The reason was simple; Spurrier knew Garcia was capable of playing better than he had been playing. The redshirt junior has had a tumultuous career on and off the field since enrolling at South Carolina in 2007 that had kept him from living up to the expectations placed on him by Spurrier.

Garcia's well-documented off-field issues resulted in a suspension from the team and university for the summer in 2008. Garcia was given a list of things from Spurrier that he must do in order to be reinstated to the team. Garcia apparently showed Spurrier what he was capable of doing, completing everything he was told to do and was welcomed back to the team earlier than expected.

Garcia's on-field issues through his first two years have also been well-documented by Spurrier. From holding on to the ball too long and taking sacks instead of throwing it away to turning the ball over on interceptions or fumbles, Spurrier was often left shaking his head or throwing whatever he could get his hands on first in frustration.

After having practically no competition in 2009, the addition of true freshman Conner Shaw to the Gamecock program in the spring of 2010, many thought Shaw would take Garcia's spot as the starter. Throughout the entire summer, Spurrier said he didn't know who was going to start the season-opener. Spurrier seemed impressed by Shaw and disappointed in Garcia.

As most expected, Garcia got the nod against Southern Miss. Garcia showed everyone that he wasn't going to give up the spot without a fight. Garcia was 16-for-23 passing for 193 yards and carried the ball five times for 38 yards and two touchdowns. On both touchdown runs, Garcia lowered his head into defenders, something that would later be his potential downfall.

In the Georgia game, Garcia took every snap and ran an effective offense. Though he didn't put up massive offensive numbers, finishing 12-for-17 for 165 yards passing and rushing for 23 yards on 12 carries, he led an offense that was efficient enough in a 17-6 victory.

After throwing for 150 yards and his first two touchdown passes of the year against Furman, Garcia took his show on the road for the first time against Auburn. Garcia was well on his way for a career night, going 15-for-21 passing for 235 yards and three touchdown passes. However, it was his two second half fumbles that led to 14 Auburn points in a 35-27 Tiger win that led Spurrier to pull Garcia in favor of Shaw for the final two possessions.

"On the 3rd-and-8 play (Garcia's second fumble), he just wouldn't throw," an obvious frustrated Spurrier said after the game. Gamecock receiver Ace Sanders appeared to get separation from his defender on an out-route, but Garcia didn't get it to him.

"He didn't throw it," Spurrier continued. "That's all I'm going to say."

Many thought there was going to be a quarterback controversy at Carolina, but Spurrier was quick to point out that Garcia played pretty well overall and would start against the Tide.

"We're planning on starting him against Alabama," Spurrier said three days later after the team's first practice during the bye week. "He actually played three quarters really well, and obviously the two fumbles were really bad plays. Now can he stop fumbling? We're going to give him a chance to stop fumbling."

Spurrier did just that, and Garcia responded by having the best game of his career against the #1 team in the nation, Alabama. Garcia was 17-for-20 passing with 201 yards and three touchdown passes. That performance was good enough to earn Garcia the Walter Camp Offensive MVP of the week and garner high praise from his coach.

"That was Stephen's best game by far that he has played here at South Carolina," Spurrier said several times following the game. "Stephen was 17-for-20, how about that against the number one defense in about every category."

Garcia wasted little time getting things going. Garcia was 4-for-4 on the opening drive for 51 yards and a 9-yard scoring strike to Marcus Lattimore to get the Gamecocks on the board.

On the following drive, Garcia made one of the plays of the game. With the Gamecocks facing a 4th-and-2 from the Bama 33, Garcia attempted to run a draw. Garcia was grabbed in the backfield, but somehow managed to spin to the outside and run for the first down. On the very next play Garcia hit Alshon Jeffery on a corner route between two defenders for Garcia's second touchdown pass and he would later hit Jeffery again on a fade route for his third touchdown pass of the first half as the Gamecocks led 21-9 at the half.

"His passes were sensational," Spurrier said. "That corner route he threw to Alshon for the second touchdown was unbelievable. He had a guy over him and a guy under him and that was the only spot he could have possibly thrown to."

On the first play of the second half, Garcia let the shotgun snap go over his head and he picked it up and threw it out the end zone.

"I should've caught the snap, but it was a little hard and high," Garcia said. "TJ (Johnson) played a great game, and I should've had it. Once I saw the ball bounce, I wasn't sure if there was somebody behind me and I didn't want to fumble, so I just threw it out of the back of the end zone. I think I hit the goal post. They said that was my first incompletion of the game."

It didn't go down as an incompletion, but was a much more difficult scoring play than that. It went down as a team loss of 15 yards on a bad snap, Garcia was credited with a four yard loss and fumble, recovered by the South Carolina team in the end zone for a team safety. Spurrier chose not to criticize Garcia for the bad play.

"It was just one play," Spurrier said. "We can't all fault him on that play. It was a hard snap and at least he didn't fumble and they get it."

The lone other "mistake" by Garcia was his fourth quarter interception. Garcia threw a jump ball to Jeffery, who just had the ball knocked away coming down and intercepted by Alabama's Will Lowery.

"I'm not dwelling on the interception," Garcia said. "The guy knocked it out of his (Jeffery) hands as he was coming down. It doesn't matter anymore because he made up for it with that one-handed catch that he took 45 yards down the field."

Spurrier says it was an nice pass by Garcia that just didn't end up going the right way.

"That was an excellent pass by Stephen - threw it high and outside and Alshon thought that was one he should have had," Spurrier said.

That was about the only thing that didn't go the right way for Garcia and the Gamecock offense in the biggest upset in the history of the university.

"He played sensationally today," an impressed Spurrier said. "He really took care of the ball, handed it off a few times, and ran in there a few times nicely and didn't duck his head. His passes were sensational."

For the season, Garcia is now 73-for-101 for 944 yards, eight touchdowns, and three interceptions. His 72.3% completion percentage ties him with Alabama's Greg McElroy for league best. His eight touchdown passes ranks him sixth in the league, and his three interceptions ties him with four other quarterbacks for the league low. His 171 passing efficiency is second in the league behind Auburn's Cam Newton.

Spurrier will very likely get on Garcia's case at some point over the next year and a half, but one thing is for sure, if Garcia plays the way Spurrier expects him to you can expect to hear Spurrier singing Garcia's praises once again.

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