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March 17, 2010

USC quarterbacks aim to avoid sacks

Home in Florida for spring break last week, Stephen Garcia would hear his cell phone buzz and find a text message from South Carolina assistant G.A. Mangus. Mangus wasn't asking about the weather.

Home in Florida for spring break last week, Stephen Garcia would hear his cell phone buzz and find a text message from South Carolina assistant G.A. Mangus.

Mangus wasn't asking about the weather.

The quarterbacks coach was reminding Garcia to do the drills designed to avoid sacks - the drumbeat Garcia can expect to hear all spring and into summer.

Forget Garcia's 2,862 passing yards and 17 touchdowns in 2009 in his first season as a starter. The statistic USC coach Steve Spurrier is concerned about is the 37 sacks the Gamecocks allowed - tied with LSU for the most in the SEC.

Only 10 FBS teams allowed more last season.

"Coach Spurrier said he wanted me to cut that down at least in half. They've been emphasizing it all spring break," Garcia said following Tuesday's practice. "Coach Mangus was texting me and said, 'Do form throw. Just work on getting the ball out of your hands as fast as possible.'"

Garcia came out of Tampa's Jefferson High ranked as the nation's No. 4 dual-threat quarterback by He has displayed his scrambling abilities often during the past two seasons.

But other times Garcia held on to the ball too long - trying to make something out of nothing - and wound up taking sacks. The Gamecocks' offensive line deserves part of the blame as well.

"I think it's as much my fault as the O-line's fault, or missed assignments. It's everybody's fault. It's a collective thing," Garcia said. "I'm going to get to the point where I can audible without looking at the coaches."

Though this is Garcia's fourth spring at USC, it is only his second spring practice. He was suspended for all or parts of the first two.

After Garcia finished second behind Arkansas' Ryan Mallett among SEC passers last season, Spurrier wants to see Garcia become a more complete quarterback.

Garcia does, too.

"I feel like a veteran, but I've still got two years left, and I'm going to use every single day I can to get better," Garcia said. "I've been in the system for four years now. I think it's about time I figured it all out."

If that meant interrupting his beach days or time with his 2-year-old son during spring break to do quarterback drills, so be it.

Asked if he heeded Mangus' advice in his text messages, Garcia said: "Not as much as he wanted me to, but I did it a few times."

While Garcia works to refine his skills, freshman Connor Shaw is trying to win the backup job during his first spring on campus. Shaw, who enrolled in January after graduating high school early in Flowery Branch, Ga., admitted succumbing to nerves during the Gamecocks' first practice before spring break.

The right-hander was much better Tuesday, completing a couple of deep throws during team drills, including one to Dion LeCorn on a play in which Shaw scrambled to his left and threw across his body.

"Connor made a couple of good scramble plays. He scrambled out and hit a couple of deep balls tonight," Spurrier said. "He's got a chance. He's just got a lot to learn."

"The first practice definitely I was a little nervous," Shaw said. "But I came out here a little more settled down. And I feel like I did pretty well."

Shaw said the toughest part of adjusting to college life has been time management. Those mornings when his 8 o'clock psychology class followed a morning workout were particularly rough.

"I'm just glad winter workouts are over as far as 5:30 in the morning," he said.

Shaw is one of three quarterbacks vying for the No. 2 job after Reid McCollum left the program in January. Shaw said it has been helpful watching Garcia, who gave a couple of the younger quarterbacks fist-bumps Tuesday after they made plays - good or bad.

Spurrier said Garcia is key if the Gamecocks are to contend in the SEC East.

"If we're going to have a big year, our quarterback's got to really play well. And our line's got to play well."

With Florida's Tim Tebow and Mississippi's Jevan Snead moving on to the NFL, Garcia was asked whether he viewed himself as one of the league's elite quarterbacks.

"That's for the media guys to figure out. I'd like to think of myself as (one), but I haven't really proven that I am yet," he said. "Hopefully, I will this year and get this team to where we want to be."

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