Garcia May Start Against UAB Next Week

Shortly after USC completed their 23-13 victory over in-state rival Wofford, Head Coach Steve Spurrier met with the media and discussed his concerns with the quarterback play thus far for the Gamecocks. In a surprise statement, he said that highly touted redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia could get the start next week against Alabama-Birmingham.

At first glance, sophomore quarterback Chris Smelley may not appear to be playing poorly. Against Wofford, Smelley completed 23 of 33 pass attempts which included a touchdown. "It's interesting that out offense never punted," said Steve Spurrier after the game. "But yet we struggled… it was a struggle all night."

Smelley threw for 204 yards on the day. However, he is still having difficulty protecting the ball. Smelley threw two more picks against the Terriers bringing his season total to five. He has played in all four games this season and has started the last three. In the games he has started, Smelley has five touchdown passes and five interceptions. He also has a fumble.

Spurrier was not overly critical of his starter from Saturday's game nor was he overly complimentary. "Chris (Smelley) hit a few balls here and there. He did some decent things," he said.

"Chris, we sort of know what we get with him," he went on to say as he began to hint that Garcia may be getting more playing time in the near future.

This is where it gets puzzling. Smelley is averaging over 230 yards a game as a starter. He is completing nearly 64% of his passes. Yet the Gamecocks are averaging less than 16 points per game in those three games.

It seems that the offense's inability to put the ball in the end zone is directly related to their inability to hold on to the ball. There is also no deep threat at all making it easier for opponents to defend the Gamecock offense. The longest pass play from scrimmage in four games this season is 34 yards.

A conclusion could be reached that Smelley may be playing well. A conclusion could be reached that Smelley is playing as well as he is capable of and a conclusion could be reached that, right now, that is not sufficient for this team.

Enter Stephen Garcia. The oft celebrated freshman quarterback who has done nothing noteworthy in a Gamecock uniform to date and yet he may start next week against UAB. Garcia, who has had his off-the-field issues, took his first snap as a Carolina quarterback last week against Georgia and was received fondly by the Gamecock faithful as they rose to their feet and cheered him as he stepped on the field. He may have gotten the warmest reception of any player to play for the first time in recent history.

Spurrier was clearly agitated with his team's inability to score points after Saturday night's game and began discussing the possibility of Garcia getting some playing time. "I don't know if Garcia can do better or not," he said. "I know that in pre-game warm ups he (Garcia) had the best ball…whatever that's worth.

"Whether or not he knows where they're going or not, I think we've got to hurry up and find out."

This could be exactly what this team needs. Maybe his presence is what the fan base needs to become vocal again. Maybe that is the push that the team needs to live up to its potential. The talent is there on the defensive side and the offense has been able to move the ball between the 20 yard lines. Yet they have lacked the tenacity, the attitude, that may be necessary to lead this team.

"We're in a rut here. Maybe we'll let him (Garcia) take off and see what happens next week. If it's not very good we'll come back with one of our other quarterbacks," said Spurrier.

Garcia has drawn comparisons with Gamecock great Steve Tanneyhill countless times and for obvious reasons. Both were highly touted prospects. Both showed up on campus with the unmistakable locks. Both have had similar issues with underage consumption and most importantly, both have a reputation for the confidence they have in themselves.

Those that followed USC in the 90s remember a confident freshman that begged for the ball. When he was finally rewarded with his opportunity to lead his team, Carolina was not the same team that he inherited. It was a team with a belief they could win. That confidence carried into the stands and those same fans hope and believe that Garcia is the man to do it again.

Gamecock fans may need to curb their enthusiasm for Garcia as he has only taken three snaps under center. The similarities are evident but that does not translate to victories. Tanneyhill performed on the field and eventually led South Carolina to their first bowl victory in history. Garcia has performed in pre-game warm ups.

Should Garcia start on Saturday, he would be the third starter in five games for the Gamecocks this season. Tommy Beecher played poorly in game one, and Smelley has not gotten this team into any rhythm in his three starts. Spurrier has decided that he may want to see what Garcia can do. A strong sentiment among Gamecock fans who are unhappy with their team's offense can be heard - play the kid with the golden arm and the jitterbug feet.

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