Garcia impresses opposition in debut start

The defending national champion LSU Tigers overcame a 17-10 halftime deficit to defeat the Gamecocks 24-17 on Saturday night in Stephen Garcia's debut as Carolina's starting quarterback. In the LSU locker room after the game, the Tiger coaches and players had a lot to say about the play of the talented redshirt freshman signal-caller.

Stephen Garcia was outstanding in the first half, passing for 160 yards and racking up another 41 on the ground before intermission. The Tigers defense kept the redshirt freshman largely in check after the break, yet Garcia still finished with 279 positive yards of offense, reduced to 230 when six sacks totaling 49 yards of losses are factored in.

Ultimately though, the Tigers respected Garcia's first half exploits enough to unveil a brand new defensive scheme up front. Named "The Express", the package was designed solely to get more pressure on Garcia and curtail his ability to run for first downs, something he did four times in the first half.

"The Express" utilizes four defensive ends, subbing in both second-teamers for the starting defensive tackles and ultimately injecting the Tigers' front four with an extra dose of speed. It worked all too well, as Garcia was kept on his heels and running for his life over most of the final two quarters.

Suffice it to say, however, that LSU players and coaches alike were impressed by Garcia's performance in his inaugural start for the Cocks.

Tyson Jackson, LSU's all-conference defensive end who had two of the Tigers' six sacks, was positive in his assessment of Garcia's play.

"He's good. Real good," Jackson said after the game. "He stepped up under adversity a lot of times and made some big plays for their offense. I think he did a great job with that. The guy is tough."

Fellow defensive end Kirston Pittman, who had four tackles and a shared sack echoed his teammate's sentiments.

"Garcia's a talented guy," Pittman declared. "He has a bright future. He stays in the pocket and makes some big-time throws and he also has some great legs so he's able to get on the edge and make some things happen. He has a great future and he's a great player."

LSU co-defensive coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto confirmed the Tigers used "The Express" package for the first time this season in an effort to slow down Garcia after his fast start.

"At the half, we talked about doing a better job with our contain angles and doing a good job of getting out there and containing the quarterback," Peveto explained. "We felt like with ‘The Express', we could do that. Keep him in the pocket, get sacks, and get him on the ground.

"He's a very athletic guy," praised Peveto. "He's very mobile and we committed to slowing him down at halftime."

LSU starting quarterback Jarrett Lee was already familiar with Garcia, having competed with and against him in high school all-star outings.

"I played with him at the Elite 11 (quarterback camp) and at the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl down in Ft. Lauderdale a couple of Christmases ago," Lee recalled. "I knew he was going to be a great player. He's going to have a great future and he did some great things tonight.

"We talked before the game and after the game. Yea, he did a great job tonight. He's a great player."

Lee acknowledged that while Garcia's talent on the field was familiar, his former all-star game teammate certainly is working a different look these days.

"Oh, he does (look different)," Lee smiled. "He cut his hair! He always had that long hair. He had that ‘Braveheart' theme going back then. It was good to see him again, though."

Long hair or not, it seemed to be unanimous amongst the LSU players and staff that the Gamecocks are in good hands at quarterback, now and even more so in the future.

That belief was driven home by Peveto just before stepping on the team bus for the ride to the airport. Asked if he felt Garcia had a chance to be REALLY good, Peveto didn't skip a beat.

"I do," he replied emphatically. "I think he has a chance to be really special for Steve (Spurrier). Really special."

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