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Garcia takes another step

USC quarterback Stephen Garcia celebrates with fans in the student section after defeating Tennessee at William-Brice Stadium.
USC quarterback Stephen Garcia celebrates with fans in the student section after defeating Tennessee at William-Brice Stadium.

Steve Spurrier still is unsure if Stephen Garcia is prepared to be his starting quarterback, but he’ll take Saturday’s 21-point victory against Tennessee any day of the week.

“He’s not familiar with everything. He’s just not ready,” Spurrier said. “He hasn’t been through a spring practice yet. He’s got a lot of ability to make plays, but he has to know what’s going on out there.”

Garcia made enough plays to ensure his second career start ended with a more favorable result than his first. He made enough plays in leading the Gamecocks to a 24-6 lead before leaving with a hyper-extended knee late in the third quarter after throwing his only interception of the night.

While his numbers were not spectacular, the results were solid. He completed 9 of 19 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Better yet, he avoided the rush against Tennessee two weeks after getting sacked six times by LSU rush in a 24-17 loss.

“It was awesome,” Garcia said. “The line did a great job of protecting me. Coach Spurrier worked with me a lot about getting rid of the ball if it’s (the play) not there. No sacks are pretty good for us.”

While his play was not as flashy as his relief appearace against Kentucky, he displayed enough poise to deliver a much-needed SEC win against a team that USC had not beat at home since 1992.

“It’s a good feeling to finally beat those guys,” said Garcia, who will get an MRI today on his knee, which was hurt when teammate Jarriel King’s shoulder pads hit his shin on the interception return.

Garcia could have reentered the game, but Spurrier played it safe with a big lead. Garcia didn’t even mind that Spurrier said he’s not quite ready.

He’ll take all the on-the-job training he can get.

“I came here to play,” he said. “I didn’t come here to sit on the sidelines.”

Garcia added that Spurrier can grade him off the film, but he was ready with his own evaluation.

“I think I did all right,” Garcia said.

He single-handedly moved USC down the field for its first touchdown. In the five-play, 82-yard scoring drive, he passed for 80 yards and scrambled for the other 2. He twice scrambled to buy time before completing passes to a receiver, including a 19-yarder to Kenny McKinley that Spurrier called “a heck of a play.”

Garcia’s 4-yard scoring pass to McKinley in the second quarter came on a check-off at the line of scrimmage, when he did not run the planned quarterback draw and switched to a quick slant upon seeing the coverage.

Garcia’s decision-making also showed up on two consecutive plays near the start of USC’s field-goal drive in the third quarter.

He avoided one sack by throwing a ball away. And on third-and-9 on the next play, he dumped a pass off under heavy pressure to Davis for a 12-yard gain. One play later, he found tight end Weslye Saunders for a big 27-yard play, which eventually led to a field goal and 24-0 lead.

Reach White at (803) 771-8643.

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