Spurrier turning reins loose on Gamecock QBs

Spring practice at South Carolina draws to a close on Saturday with the playing of the 2009 Garnet and Black Spring Game at Williams-Brice Stadium at 1 p.m. For USC coach Steve Spurrier, the game will be a chance for him to judge the two main quarterbacks vying for playing time one last time. For more details, continue reading below.

They've studied the playbook. They've practiced the schemes and systems repeatedly. Come Saturday, it will be time for South Carolina quarterbacks Stephen Garcia and Reid McCollum to demonstrate just how much of a grasp they have on the Gamecock offense as the team wraps up spring practice with the annual Garnet and Black Spring Game.

USC coach Steve Spurrier announced after Thursday's final practice before the game that the pair will see most of the time under center during Saturday's spring finale, making it their opportunity to impress the coaches one last time.

"Stephen Garcia and Reid McCollum will play a whole lot, and the other quarterbacks will play a little bit here and there," Spurrier said. "They'll play most of it, Reid and Stephen Garcia. Zac Brindise and Aramis will play some also."

With a defense that can't blitz and will be playing limited coverage, Spurrier is hopeful that the pair will do something that hasn't been done since he arrived in Columbia – take care of the ball during the spring game.

In four previous spring games, the USC quarterbacks have combined to throw 13 interceptions to 11 touchdowns, including last year's eight-interception performance from Chris Smelley (five interceptions) and Tommy Beecher (three interceptions). Spurrier has made protecting the ball and limiting careless mistakes a point of emphasis for the signal callers this spring.

"The goals are to play, to take care of the ball, not throw the ball right to the defensive team. I think we had eight or nine interceptions in that game last year," Spurrier said. "So we'll see if Stephen and Reid can act like they know what they're doing a little bit. And if our offensive line can block just four guys. We've got five on four every play so you'd think we ought to be able to get the balls off. So we'll see how that goes."

With sunny skies and warm weather predicted for game time, Spurrier is also hopeful that the quarterbacks will get a new factor added in the game in crowd pressure. While other quarterbacks further down the depth chart will get some work under center, the bulk of the load will be carried by Garcia and McCollum in an effort to see how they react to the pressure.

"What you like to see is how they perform with 20, 30 thousand people in the stands, put on the game uniforms, things like that," Spurrier said. "They should be excited and ready to play. Both Stephen and Reid, they've gotten most of the snaps through spring practice so they should really be excited and ready to go."

Though Spurrier has seen improved performances from all the quarterbacks during the spring, all of it could go for not if they don't continue the work they've started. Spurrier and the assistant coaches have stressed to the quarterbacks the importance of working with the receivers during the summer months when the coaches aren't around. That extra work is what Spurrier believes separates USC from truly being a contender in the SEC.

"One of biggest problems I think we've had around here is our summers have not been that productive. Quarterbacks and receivers, they don't throw the ball all the time like they do at other schools," Spurrier said. "We encourage them to do it, we give them a plan to go do it, they've got to want to do it by themselves because coaches can't be here.

"We'll see if Stephen and Reid and these receivers will go throw the ball around a bunch. If they do that we'll have a chance to have a good offense. I think we can run the ball a little bit, but we've got to be able to throw it also."

While the focus will be on Garcia and McCollum, Spurrier will add some flair to the offensive side of the ball as true freshman Stephon Gilmore is slated to see a snap or two under center. The South Pointe native is battling for a starting spot in the defensive secondary but could play both ways as he led his high school team to a state title as a quarterback. Along with Gilmore in the backfield could be defensive lineman Melvin Ingram who could see time at fullback. Defensive end Cliff Matthews will probably see some snaps at tight end.

But all those quirks will be used to help the offense improve rather than hinder it. After all, that is the team's main goal at the end of the day.

"The scrimmage will be set up hopefully to help the offense a little bit," Spurrier said. "So we'll see if we can perform fairly well offensively. We haven't done that in the spring game since I've been here I guess. So anyway, we'll see what happens."

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