Garcia Leads Potent Offense

Unlike in Steve Spurrier's previous five seasons as South Carolina head football coach, the Gamecock offense has led the team to a 5-2 start and first place in the SEC East. Quarterback Stephen Garcia, running back Marcus Lattimore, and receivers Tori Gurley and Alshon Jeffery are the driving forces behind an offense that continues to get better each week.

When Steve Spurrier was hired as South Carolina's head football coach in 2005, Gamecock fans everywhere dreamed of the day when the Gamecock offense began putting up the numbers the Florida Gators did under Spurrier. While that is virtually impossible in today's SEC, it didn't seem far-fetched that the Gamecocks could at least have a very good offense under the Head Ball Coach and compete for SEC Championships.

It took longer than most Gamecock fans hoped, but it appears that the Gamecocks finally have that offense in Spurrier's sixth year. For the first time in the Steve Spurrier Era, the Gamecocks are averaging more than 400 yards of offense per game (404), a giant increase to last season's 347 yards per game. The Gamecocks are also averaging nearly 30 points per game, almost 10 points higher than last season.

"We still have a lot of football left to play," quarterback Stephen Garcia said following Wednesday's practice. "We still have a lot of good football to be played. We haven't played four quarters of football yet that we can, and I think it's scary to think about what we can do if we do."

The main ingredient for a Spurrier offense to be successful is good quarterback play. You don't have to put up Kellen Moore-type numbers for it to work, you just have to be solid. Spurrier has ridden Garcia harder than usual entering the 2010 season, many times threatening Garcia through the media that he would be replaced by freshman Connor Shaw.

How has Garcia responded? Only by having a career season. Garcia has completed 124-of-172 passes for 1,681 yards (240 per game) and 12 touchdowns. He is second in the SEC behind Auburn's Cameron Newton in quarterback efficiency at 170.2 and fourth in total offense. Garcia has certainly exceeded the expectations of Gamecock fans, but he only cares about one thing; exceeding the team's goals.

"I guess we'll find out at the end of the year," Garcia said. "I don't really know about expectations as far as stats. I'm just concerned about the SEC and where we stand in it and playing in Atlanta."

His astounding 72% completion percentage is tops in the SEC. "It's alright I guess," Garcia said with a laugh.

Garcia credits the offensive line under first-year coach Shawn Elliott for some of his success.

"We're blocking a lot better - zone blocking," Garcia said. "The defense can't just pin their ears back and blitz me all the time now."

Perhaps the biggest reason defenses can't pin their ears back is the play of freshman running back Marcus Lattimore. Lattimore, considered by some as the #1 running back in the country coming out of high school, has lived up to the hype early in his collegiate career. In just his second game as a Gamecock, Lattimore ran for 182 yards and two touchdowns against the Georgia Bulldogs. For the season, Lattimore has 538 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 10 rushing touchdowns are just five shy of tying the single-season school record. Lattimore is tied for third in the country in scoring, joining Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray, Oregon State's Jacquizz Rogers, and Oregon's LaMichael James with 12 points per game. Not bad for a freshman to be right there with three of the country's best running backs.

As if keeping an eye on Lattimore is a big enough chore for opposing defensive coordinators, They must also keep an eye on a talented receiving corp, led by 6'5 Tori Gurley and 6'4 Alshon Jeffery. Nine different receivers have caught passes this season for the Gamecocks, not counting running backs. Three different receivers have caught touchdown passes and Lattimore has two receiving touchdowns out of the backfield.

"There's more than just Alshon and Tori," Garcia said. "Marcus is great out of the backfield, Ace (Sanders) is quick and I throw those little quick screens to him and he makes something happen, D.L. (Moore), Jason Barnes. There's a bunch of guys out here that I have all the confidence in the world that can make plays."

While there may be "more than just Alshon and Tori," they are clearly the top two targets. Jeffery, who led the country in receiving yards for the first four weeks of the season, is currently fourth in receiving yards (848) and third in receiving yards per game (121). Both are tops in the SEC by a wide margin.

"He's incredible," Lattimore said. "Hands-down he's the best I've seen - best receiver in the nation I think. He watches a lot of film. He's a hard worker. When we run sprints he beats me almost every time."

"He's just very football smart," Garcia said. "He knows exactly what to do on every play, knows coverages, knows what he's supposed to do, and catches the ball."

Jeffery is best known for using his wide 6'4, 233 pound body to go up and get the ball. Jeffery won four State Championships in basketball at Calhoun County, and Jeffery says he uses what he learned on the basketball court when he's on the football field on the "jump balls."

"It's just like going up for a rebound," Jeffery said. "Try and box the guy out and go up and get the ball."

Jeffery could have ended up on the other sideline when the Gamecocks host Tennessee this weekend. Gamecock fans remember well when former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin told Jeffery that he would end up pumping gas for the rest of his life if he came to South Carolina. Kiffin then left for Southern Cal after the season, making Jeffery feel that much better about his decision to stay in-state.

"Everything happens for a reason," Jeffery said with a smile. "I'm glad I'm here."

With most of the secondary's attention on Jeffery, Gurley is very quietly becoming a force in his own right. Gurley is tied with Arkansas' Joe Adams for sixth in the conference in receptions per game (4.3) and has 297 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Gurley had, by far, his best game as a Gamecock last week in a 21-7 win over Vanderbilt. Gurley had career-highs in both catches (13) and yards (109). His previous highs were four receptions - which he did six different times - and 100 yards that he accomplished in last season's Florida Atlantic win. Jeffery is happy to have so many other playmakers on the field.

"It's very nice," Jeffery said. "The defense has to account for Lattimore and all our receivers. As you saw in the Vanderbilt game, everybody made a lot of catches and made a lot of plays. When we line up against the defense they've got to account for everybody."

With the Gamecocks inching ever so closer to the program's first SEC East title and a trip to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, they are just fulfilling one of their goals entering the season.

"We're very excited," Jeffery said. "That was our goal from day one - to get to Atlanta."

The Gamecocks are just three victories away from winning the division crown out-right, reaching that goal that for so long many thought would never happen at South Carolina, and once again prove that Steve Spurrier is still the Evil Genius.

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