COLUMBIA, S.C. — Steve Spurrier isn’t happy with No. 18 South Carolina’s stumbling offense, so he’s benching quarterback Stephen Garcia and inserting sophomore Connor Shaw back in the starting lineup.
The Gamecocks coach isn’t sure what to do beyond that.
He added the team’s needs to get more players involved and that the offensive line needs to step up.
Spurrier said the offensive line must block better, give whoever is playing quarterback more time to throw and to open up holes for running backs. The only change up front is likely to be Mike Matulis subbing at left tackle for Kyle Nunn, who continues to be out with a back injury.
The coach would like to get more players involved in the backfield and at receiver. So far, that hasn’t happened.
“We sort of got stuck playing the same guys about the whole game,” Spurrier said. “Hopefully, we can get more players out there involved in helping the team be successful.”
Spurrier announced Garcia’s benching after Monday’s practice. The fifth-year senior made the decision easy for Spurrier with his poor play the past few games. Garcia, who’s started 34 games for Spurrier, threw four interceptions against Vanderbilt two weeks ago and added two more in a 16-13 loss last Saturday to Auburn, which entered ranked dead last in Southeastern Conference defense.
Spurrier said Shaw’s work at practice the past few weeks has the staff thinking he’s ready to shine. That won’t be easy this week with Kentucky (2-3, 0-2 SEC), which has the SEC’s fourth-best pass defense.
However, only Auburn has given up more points and yards on the ground in the SEC than Kentucky. And up next for the Wildcats defense is the league’s leading rusher in South Carolina star Marcus Lattimore.
“I hope they shake it up and don’t turn it over to 21 (Lattimore),” Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. “That’s the shaking up I’d like to see done.”
Lattimore has run for 677 yards and nine touchdowns this season. But he was held to season lows with 66 yards and 17 carries as Auburn crowded the line and forced the Gamecocks to beat the Tigers passing, something Garcia couldn’t do.
That led to Spurrier’s switch to Shaw, who played the first quarter of South Carolina’s opening game with East Carolina before getting pulled for Garcia with the Gamecocks down 17-0. This time Shaw said he’s better prepared to make things happen.
“I feel confident and I feel like I’m ready to play,” he said.
The Gamecocks offense is ready to go, no matter who’s under center. Receiver Bruce Ellington said the players have faith in both quarterbacks.
Monday “in practice, Connor threw the ball in practice really well. He really looks like he’s ready to play,” Ellington said.
Shaw might also help get star wideout Alshon Jeffery untracked this season, too. Jeffery caught 88 passes for 1,527 yards and 10 touchdowns last fall. He was a preseason all-SEC first teamer and was pictured on the cover of Sports Illustrated this summer.
But the junior hasn’t matched that production yet this season. He’s yet to have a 100-yard receiving game — Jeffery had eight in 2010 — and has just two touchdowns.
Jeffery had a 50-yard touchdown grab against Auburn. He was also overthrown by Garcia on several other occasions. An effective quarterback should also get South Carolina’s other receivers like Ellington, Ace Sanders, D.L. Moore, Jason Barnes and Damiere Byrd involved, something that hasn’t happened often this year.
Spurrier doesn’t want to throw too much pressure on Shaw and promised he’d stay in unless he were injured.
“Connor needs to just take care of the ball, make smart decisions, throw it to our guys, take off running every now and then, hand it off, and we think he’s capable,” Spurrier said.
Spurrier also hasn’t given up hope of finding solid backup to spell Lattimore. Freshman Shon Carson appeared to fill that role, until he was lost to injury in the Georgia game last month.
Kenny Miles, the team’s leading rusher in 2009, has been out with a wrist injury, although he practiced with a cast on Monday night, Spurrier said.
Spurrier said Garcia handled the demotion well and would be ready to play if called on.
All is not lost for the defending SEC Eastern Division champions. Spurrier told his players their goals are all still out there to achieve.