Garcia practices; Cam cleared

While the biggest news in college football Wednesday was that Auburn starting quarterback Cam Newton had been ruled eligible to play in this Saturday's SEC Championship, the best news to hit Columbia, S.C. was that South Carolina starting quarterback Stephen Garcia practiced for the first time this week.

Garcia had been seen wearing a sling on his non-throwing shoulder that was planted hard into the ground on a legal tackle by a Clemson defender this past Saturday.

While head football coach Steve Spurrier has maintained all week that Garcia should be fine by game time, Garcia's coaches and teammates were glad to see the redshirt junior back practicing close to 100 percent after missing the first two workouts of the week.

"He took all the reps, most of his reps," quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus said Wednesday after practice. "He had a little brace, harness on his shoulder, just for tonight to kinda see how it felt, but he did alright. He threw the ball around -- feels good -- feels much better today."

Garcia also hit a finger on his right hand on a defender's helmet against Clemson, but Mangus said the hand is fine. Wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier, Jr. and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery also confirmed Garcia showed no real signs of injury.

Hours before the Gamecocks took the practice fields, news broke that Garcia's counterpart, Cam Newton, had been cleared to play this weekend.

What was the most talked about sports story of the day for the rest of the country was a mere blip on the Gamecocks' radar.

"We all knew he was going to play didn't we?" Mangus said.

South Carolina was far more tuned in to doing everything it can to be prepared for Newton and the Tigers.

While Marcus Lattimore and Jeffery get many of the accolades for the team's offense performance in this run to the title game, Garcia deserves a ton of that credit as well.

Part of his maturation process may have been triggered by his benching the last time the two teams met. Despite having one of the best passing games of his careers in the 35-27 Carolina loss, Garcia was benched in the fourth quarter after two fumbles.

"He's been much better taking care of the ball and learning how to run with his head up and get forward and not take as many hits," Mangus says of Garcia's play in recent weeks. "I think it's a different Stephen Garcia now and hopefully he learned a valuable lesson that night."

Before the two turnovers soured the whole performance, Garcia had completed 15 of 21 passes for 235 yards and 3 touchdowns on the Auburn secondary. All-American wide receiver Jeffery was Garcia's primary target with 8 catches for 192 yards and 2 touchdowns.

The pair will look to do similar things through the air this week against an Auburn defense that ranks last in the conference against the pass, yet had a lot of success bottling up the Gamecocks' running game last time around.

While there's always the chance Auburn will dedicate more coverage to Jeffery, Mangus expects a similar defensive game plan from Auburn in the secondary.

"I think everybody does what they do, that's how you get here and get to this game," Mangus says. "Everybody's going to have a few wrinkles and all that, but they do what they do and they play their defense. Even the later games since we played them -- it's been a while since we played them -- but you watch the games and they do what they do. We expect them to do that and play hard and be their usual physical defense, and we've got to go execute and make plays."

Jeffery says he's preparing for whatever the Auburn D throws at him.

"If they play me however they played me last game or if they double team me or triple team me," Jeffery says. "It don't matter to me as long as we come out on top."

As good as the passing game was, the running game never seemed to get going against Nick Fairley and a physical Auburn front seven.

"We've got to play our butts off," offensive line coach Shawn Elliott said. "We had a struggle with two great defensive tackles a week ago. We've played (Fairley) before; we know a little bit more about him than what we knew about those guys. We've got to play our best game we've had. We're in the 13th ball game - we've been a little bit better each week - and hopefully we're a lot better than when we played them the first time."

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