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South Carolina's Garcia surprised by benching

Flowery Branch's Shaw won't start yet

POSTED: September 29, 2010 8:27 p.m.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia's first clue he was benched down the stretch against Auburn? Watching backup Connor Shaw trot on the field with the Gamecocks offense.

That's the way it goes with South Carolina's head coach, Steve Spurrier.

"It hurt. I didn't really like it happening," said Garcia, the fourth-year junior who's started the past 18 games. "But that's what happened and I can't fumble twice. That's the main reason he took me out."

Garcia had played a strong game through three quarters at Jordan-Hare Stadium, throwing three touchdowns to push South Carolina in front 27-21. But two fumbles led to a pair of Auburn touchdowns and a 35-27 victory. After the second turnover, Spurrier had apparently seen enough and sent in Shaw, a freshman from Flowery Branch who enrolled in January. Both of Shaw's drives ended in interceptions.

Shaw going in "kind of caught me off guard," Garcia said Wednesday. "But that's in the past. I'm not worried about that anymore."

Garcia's much more concerned with playing the way Spurrier wants. Spurrier says Garcia's bull-rush, head-down running technique is dangerous and can lead to catastrophic injury if not corrected.

"Heck, I am afraid they could sue me if I let him play like that," Spurrier said after Tuesday's practice. "That's a terrible way to play football. You can't do it like that."

Still, he said Garcia would keep his starting job — something that's not always a given under Spurrier — as the 20th-ranked Gamecocks (3-1) regrouped following the Auburn defeat. South Carolina is off Saturday and plays next against No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 9.

"He actually played three quarters pretty well, and obviously the two fumbles were really bad plays," Spurrier said. "Can he stop fumbling? We're going to give him a chance to stop fumbling."

Spurrier saved his harshest words for the offensive line, which gave up three sacks and provided few holes for leading rusher Marcus Lattimore to run through.

"They're either not smart enough to play, or losing doesn't hurt. One or the other, because (the Gamecocks) are big, strong guys," Spurrier said. "But when the ball is snapped, sometimes we just don't compete hard enough."

First-year offensive line coach Shawn Elliott vowed that his guys would not forget the mistakes made last week and use them to improve for the games ahead. "We're going to move on. We're going to move on and get better," Elliott said.

Center T.J. Johnson said he wasn't aware of Spurrier's criticism. He said the mood among players has improved as the week's gone on. "We're already starting to think about Alabama," he said.

Special teams coach Shane Beamer said coaches and players were understandably upset about losing the lead — South Carolina was up 20-7 in the first half — at Auburn. "But we had a good team meeting and kind of cleared the air a little bit," Beamer said.

Spurrier effectively did the same by keeping Garcia under center — and avoiding nearly two weeks of questions about a quarterback controversy.

Garcia said the Gamecocks have backed him up and encouraged him to stay strong. Then again, that's not always easy with a Heisman Trophy winning coach famous for his impatience with passers. He tosses headgear, visors or game notes to the ground at the slightest mistake and does not hesitate at changing quarterbacks, not matter the situation, to get what he wants.

Garcia has spent his share of time in Spurrier's doghouse since arriving at South Carolina in January 2007. He understands the only way out is to play the way Spurrier wants.

"It's hard to accept. But it's my fault. I can't fumble twice on those two drives and give them a short field to work with," Garcia said. "I'm taking responsibility for it. I just got to play smarter."



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