Practice Report: Garcia making strides

After a physical practice Friday afternoon, the Gamecocks got a bit of a break Saturday morning, as they continue to prepare for the Outback Bowl. The players worked out for about an hour and forty-five minutes before getting the rest of the day off. They worked out in shorts instead of full pads, but still got in a strong day's work.

"We did a lot of plays, a lot of repetition," said Steve Spurrier. "We let Stephen Garcia take snaps, hand off, throw, try to get him accustomed to playing a bit. Hopefully we've made some improvement."

Even after announcing Garcia would be the starting quarterback for the Outback Bowl, Spurrier said many times that the redshirt freshman had a long way to go before he would really be ready to play. After a week of bowl practice, Spurrier sees some of the needed improvement.

"He looks a lot better," said Spurrier. "He's taking probably about two-thirds of the snaps and Chris Smelley the other. They've gotten a lot of repetitions."

Even with all those repetitions, South Carolina has not finished installing its bowl offense. The majority of the playbook is in, but Spurrier is holding back a few pages for when the team gets to Tampa.

"We haven't really done our short yardage and our goal line, so we'll save that for down there," he said. "I think sometimes it's good to give your guys something new and don't put it all in and let it get stale. So we'll have some new stuff down there ready."

The Gamecocks will have a short practice at 11:45 on Sunday, practice at 10:15 on Monday, and then have a break for Christmas. They will fly to Tampa on December 26, and have a similar practice schedule down there.

"We're going to practice most days around 10:30 or 11:00," Spurrier explained. "The game's at 11, so we're trying to get in the habit of waking up a little earlier and getting ready to play around that time. We'll let the players the first night stay out a little bit, but after that the curfew's 11:00 [PM]."

The Gamecocks had punter Spencer Lanning at practice on Saturday. Lanning is ineligible for the bowl, but is appealing the ruling, which allows him to continue to practice.

"Spencer is still alive," Spurrier said. "We're not 100 percent sure how his appeal will work, but he was able to come out and punt today. I think he was working on his case yesterday with our compliance people."

Brinkley respects Iowa's physical ground attack

The biggest challenge for the Gamecocks if they want to win the Outback Bowl will be stopping All-American running back Shonn Green. Slowing down the Doak Walker Award winner will be a team effort, but the spotlight will undoubtedly be on middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley. Perhaps Carolina's best run stuffer, Brinkley is ready for the challenge.

"It presents a real tough challenge because he has a combination of speed and power, and I haven't seen a back like that in a long time," Brinkley said of Green. "It's going to present the defense with a challenge: can we go in, make the tackles, and get him on the ground."

Carolina has played, and played well against, some of the best running backs in the SEC. Knowshon Moreno, Charles Scott, and Michael Smith all had sub-par games against the Gamecock defense. As good as they are, Brinkley said none of them compare to Green.

"He'll probably be one of the best backs we've faced," Brinkley said. "He reminds me of Marion Barber from the Dallas Cowboys, with the speed and physicality."

To combat Green, Ellis Johnson has elected to go with a 4-3 defense, rather than the 4-2-5 defense Carolina ran all season. The change was made in part to cover up for the loss of Emanuel Cook, but also as a way to get more size and strength on the field against Iowa's power running game. Brinkley's responsibilities do not change with the switch, although he said he will "probably play more in the middle now."

"Ain't nothing changed except moving the safety back to safety and bringing a linebacker in," he said. "I feel real good because you've got three linebackers, versus the 4-2-5 with two big linebackers in the middle, now we've got three of them. It's going to be a physical game, so you need physical guys in."

Two years ago, Brinkley was a potential early round draft pick, but he elected to return to Carolina for his senior season. That did not work out the way he wanted, as he injured his knee against LSU and had to take a medical redshirt. Brinkley did not put up the same kind of stats this year that he did two years ago, and has seen his draft stock slip a little. He knows the Outback Bowl will be his last, and maybe best, chance to impress the pro scouts.

"Me going against one of the best backs in the country, I think a lot of teams want to see that," said Brinkley. "Hopefully I can go in and have a good game, wrap up on him, and not miss any tackles."

Still, Brinkley has said he has no regrets about passing up the draft two years ago, or last year, when he could have gone pro and rehabbed with an NFL team. If he had not come back, he would not be preparing for the Outback Bowl today, and he would not have a chance to give the Gamecock program something to build on after he leaves.

"Like Coach Spurrier said earlier, you're only as good as your last game," he said. "Our last game wasn't too good. We want to go out here and make a strong statement for next year."

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