Earlier in the week, Steve Spurrier said every offensive spot was up for grabs in practice.
While three skillplayers grabbed starting spots—running back Brian Maddox and wide receivers Joe Hills and Jason Barnes—the man everyone expected to take over at quarterback, Stephen Garcia, had to wait roughly nine minutes of game time before making his second appearance at Williams-Brice stadium.
He didn’t disappoint.
In the first quarter, Garcia scampered for 21 yards and threw for 33, including a nice 13-yard touchdown to Brian Maddox—giving the Gamecocks the added second dimension fans have been craving.
Garcia then led a methodical drive to open the second quarter, connecting on two consecutive strikes to Matt Clements, a few five yard runs, and a nice hook-up with Jason Barnes down to the five. But the drive ended with Brian Maddox getting stuffed at the goal line on 4th down.
After UAB went three and out, Captain Munnerlyn returned the punt to the eight, and Garcia took over from there, running for a six yard score, putting South Carolina up 17-3.
Garcia then led the Gamecocks to another score, this time a 48-yard field goal from Ryan Succop.
At the half, Garcia’s numbers were shiny: 9-12 for 101 yards and one touchdown to go along with 67 yards rushing and one touchdown.
After a stalled first drive to open the 3rd quarter, the Gamecocks put together another nice mix of run and pass on the next drive but stalled inside the 10. Ryan Succop was true on another chip-shot field goal, making the score 23-6.
Freshman tailback Eric Baker got into the action on the next series, ripping off a couple of nice runs as Carolina moved the ball well, but two false starts in a row made it third and 11 from UAB’s 47—and that’s when Garcia made his first collegiate turnover.
Attempting his first deep ball to the house, Garcia was picked, and the ball came out to the 20—but in many ways it was a wash, much like a punt through the endzone.
UAB moved the ball with ease on its next possession, but a forced fumble by South Carolina gave the Gamecocks the ball at their 46. Smelley came back in, and senior tailback Bobby Wallace tore off another 20-yard run. After trading penalties, Smelley took a sack and was then picked off.
Spurrier was—shocker here—not pleased. The crowd shared Spurrier’s sentiments, as boos rained down as the offense came off the field.
In mop-up time, quarterback Tommy Beecher came in—after another UAB turnover—to run the offense on the next drive. Beecher failed to lead the Gamecocks to a touchdown, even with a short field, and Succop once again came in for another short field goal, making the final score 26-6.
UAB added a meaningless touchdown with 24 seconds left to bring the final score to 26-13.
Overall, South Carolina rolled up yards, picked up some confidence, saw that Stephen Garcia can be a dangerous weapon with some liabilities, but continued to shoot itself in the foot with false starts and the inability to punch the ball into the endzone. After all, this is a UAB team that has surrendered many more points and yards to better teams.
In a lot of ways, however, this was a glorified scrimmage for South Carolina. Spurrier played all three quarterbacks, used three tailbacks not named Mike Davis, and got eight different receivers to catch a pass.
While we won’t know for sure for at least a day or two, the quarterback job seems like Stephen Garcia’s heading into SEC play next week. The offense, while still stagnant, looked the best under his leadership, and his mobility clearly gave the Gamecocks an different look—and that spark that was so desperately missing.
Against a suspect Ole Miss defense next week, that might pay dividends. If South Carolina gets Kenny McKinley back (after missing three games with a hamstring injury), the offense will undoubtedly look improved.
And with Spurrier’s former defensive coordinator now on Ole Miss’s sidelines, you can bet Spurrier will hope to bring something up his sleeve.
Whether or not it’s enough for a win, we’ll find out.