Offense answers few questions in 26-13 win

The Gamecocks sought to cure some ills and break in a new quarterback against UAB Saturday night. The results were far from overwhelming, as Carolina sleepwalked to a comfortable, but far from dominating 26-13 win over the Blazers. The defense was dominant for most of the game, and the offense moved the ball well at times but struggled to score touchdowns in the red zone.


"I thought we had a chance to score a lot of points and get everybody in the game, but we couldn't do it," said South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier following the game. "We tried, we called plays to throw it down the field, and we couldn't quite get it done. Fortunately Ryan made all his field goals, and I guess we only got two touchdowns against Alabama-Birmingham. We had a lot of guys that did not play our best. I told our guys I don't know how some of you guys can look in the mirror after a game like that."

Freshman quarterback Stephen Garcia saw the first major playing time of his career, and moved the ball well. After Chris Smelley drove the team down the field for a 44-yard Ryan Succop field goal, Garcia took over for the second drive. He completed his first pass to Joe Hills, but running back Eric Baker fumbled on the next play. The turnover led to a UAB field goal. That field goal was the first time this season the Gamecocks allowed an opponent to score in the first quarter.

On the next drive, Garcia led the first touchdown drive of his career. The drive was nearly derailed by an interception, but an offsides penalty gave the ball back to Carolina. Garcia used his mobility to keep plays alive, and found Brian Maddox from 13 yards out for his first touchdown pass.

"It was definitely a lot of weight getting lifted off my shoulders, throwing that first touchdown pass," Garcia said. "It was wide open and he made a good catch and good run after the catch. It was a pretty good way to start off."

"It was a designed play [that is] supposed to be open like that," Maddox said. "I visualized myself making a catch in my sleep, and it happened."

Garcia led another scoring drive in the second quarter, when he ran it in from five yards out. However, what everyone will remember is the touchdown that should have been on the drive before. The offense marched down the field to the five yard line. On third down, Garcia scrambled left and appeared to have a lane to the end zone, but UAB's Brand Carlisle closed quickly and collided with Garcia at the one, knocking the quarterback out of bounds. The Gamecocks were stuffed on fourth down and came away with no points.

"That was pretty embarrassing," Garcia said. "I didn't think that guy was going to run that fast at me and I thought I had it easy. That won't happen again."

The offense struggled the rest of the day, never more so than on consecutive plays near the end of the first half. Garcia threw incomplete to Hills, and Spurrier sent Smelley into the game. Smelley ran the same play and again threw incomplete to Hills. Spurrier angrily yanked Smelley, and sent Garcia back in the game.

"They kept throwing to the wrong guy," Spurrier said. "They said the [defender] was way off and it looked like an easy 12-yard out. I said, 'well how come neither one of you could hit it?'"

In the second half, the Gamecocks managed only to tack on a pair of Succop field goals. Succop finished with a career high four field goals. The last Carolina kicker to hit four field goals was Steve Florio, who accomplished the feat against East Carolina in 1997. As the Gamecocks emptied the bench, Tommy Beecher and Zac Brindise took snaps late in the game. The defensive reserves struggled, and allowed a late touchdown from the Blazers, which had Ellis Johnson frustrated following the game.

"The way we played the first 45-50 minutes of the ballgame [was good], and then to have go out on the field and play that way [was frustrating]," said Johnson. "They always wonder why they aren't getting any reps, and then they get in and don't make them count."

After the game, Spurrier angrily criticized the team's lack of effort and discipline. He continued even after his postgame press conference had ended, leaving the podium and walking to the door, all while still addressing the media.

"Don't write anything nice [about the team]," Spurrier said. "Some guys play their hearts out, but we need about 60 of them playing their hearts out. If anybody's got any suggestions, send them [in]."

He declined to say who will start at quarterback next week against Ole Miss, but said Garcia will again see significant playing time. Although he was displeased with the blocking, Spurrier also said there were unlikely to be any changes on the line. Garcia finished 13-20 for 131 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. He also led the team with 18 rushes and 89 yards. Smelley was 3-9 for 44 yards and a pick, and Beecher was 2-4 for 20 yards. Bobby Wallace got his first carries since 2006, and rushed 6 times for 51 yards.


Notes:

- Along with Garcia's first completion, touchdown pass, and touchdown run, there were other Gamecock firsts. Matt Clements had his first career catch, and finished with two catches for 26 yards. Brian Maddox had his first touchdown catch. Shaq Wilson had his first interception, and Cliff Matthews had his first fumble recovery.

- UAB did not pick up a first down until 6:39 remaining in the second quarter.

- Spencer Lanning boomed a career-long 55-yard punt in the third quarter, his first punt since the Georgia game.

- The only reported injury was to cornerback Mike Newton, who suffered a left knee injury.


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