Published September 29, 2011 - 7:28am
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As is the case with most mid-season games in the SEC, the storylines are endless for ninth-ranked South Carolina’s (4-0, 2-0) East-West matchup with Auburn (3-1, 1-0) Saturday at a sold-out Williams Brice Stadium.
- Can the 9.5-point favored Gamecocks beat the Tigers for the first time in 78 years?
- Will South Carolina’s defense show another strong effort against one of the SEC’s top offenses?
- Does Auburn have enough players on defense to stop – or tackle – Marcus Lattimore?
While tailbacks Michael Dyer and Lattimore are the best players on each team’s offense, there’s a third player I expect to have the biggest impact in the afternoon affair – quarterback Stephen Garcia.
The last time the Gamecocks were nationally-televised in the 3:30 p.m. time slot, Garcia swayed a fanbase back into his corner with one of his best games as a collegian – a 17-of-20, 201-yard, three-touchdown masterpiece during South Carolina’s convincing win over No. 1 Alabama. After that victory, Garcia managed consecutive 350-yard plus games and threw 12 touchdown passes over the final nine games of the season with an average completion percentage of 61.4.
Those numbers were good enough to propel the Gamecocks to their first SEC East title in school history, a berth in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and a nine-win season.
In 2011, Garcia’s been bad (3 TD, 7 INT) but the Gamecocks are 4-0 and his job is safe. Most of us think the fifth-year senior will turn things around and I think that’ll start Saturday against Auburn. The Tigers’ secondary is giving up 251 yards per game and the defensive line – a talented, sack-happy unit in 2010 with Nick Fairley – has just three in four games.
With time in the pocket and a re-energized receiving corp matched up against a struggling secondary, Garcia has the opportunity to play the way most fans – and coaches – expected him to after encouraging progress during summer and fall workouts. Garcia will be making his 34th career start under center, his third against Auburn. He was exceptional through the air on the Plains last season at Jordan-Hare Stadium, but squandered South Carolina’s chances with two lost fumbles that caused Steve Spurrier to go the Connor Shaw route.
He was sharp in the first-half of the rematch in Atlanta during the SEC Championship Game, but the Gamecocks’ defense didn’t help the cause. Garcia’s pick-six in the third quarter was a result of frustration more than anything else.
Spurrier continues to say there is no quarterback battle at South Carolina and wants to see a different attitude from No. 5 this weekend.
“I hope the quarterback will go out there saying ‘I’m ready to tear them up today’ instead of `what will I do today,’” Spurrier said earlier this week. “We hope the entire team has confidence they can play well. Even the left guard needs to have confidence he can play well.”
Garcia’s admitted he hasn’t played up to his standards yet. That’s good news, Stephen. The season is still young.