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USC coaches hope for consistent Garcia

USC quarterback Stephen Garcia
USC quarterback Stephen Garcia

Stephen Garcia did not break off any dazzling runs or complete a pass longer than 29 yards Saturday in South Carolina's fourth preseason scrimmage, prompting Steve Spurrier to call Garcia's performance "so-so."

But if so-so means no turnovers and just a couple of sacks, G.A. Mangus can live with it.

"We don't need him to go out there and win the game for us right now. I think that's an awfully lofty expectation for a sophomore," said Mangus, the Gamecocks' first-year quarterbacks coach. "At the same time, you look at the turnovers and the sacks last year, and if we can eliminate those, that gives us a chance to win."

Last season was a transition year for Garcia, whose athleticism and improvisational skills made him a blue-chip recruit at Jefferson High in Tampa, Fla. But often when Garcia tried to leave the pocket and freelance in his first SEC season, he was chided by his coach for not letting the play develop or, worse, saw his passes end up in the arms of a defensive back.

Garcia had more interceptions (eight) than touchdown passes (six) in 2008, and was picked off an average of once every 15 throws. The right-hander combined with Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher to throw more interceptions (27) than any team in the country.

It was not all bad for Garcia. He came off the bench to win the Kentucky game and accounted for 230 of the Gamecocks' 254 yards the following week in a 24-17 loss to LSU.

But for many fans, the lasting image of Garcia was his dismal Outback Bowl showing in his hometown, where he tossed an interception on his first pass attempt and had turnovers on the Gamecocks' first four possessions in the 31-10 loss to Iowa.

Mangus, the former Middle Tennessee assistant, has watched the Outback Bowl DVD - and those from every other game, as well. He believes Garcia gets in trouble when he starts "pressing" and trying to do too much.

"He's going to have his moments. He did last year," Mangus said. "He has been more consistent this fall. It hasn't been necessarily spectacular. But we don't need spectacular. We need him to take care of the ball and give us a chance to win."

After completing 14 of 16 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown in Wednesday's scrimmage, Garcia was 10 of 23 for 100 yards Saturday. He had no touchdowns or interceptions and was sacked twice.

"So-so. Very average," said Spurrier, adding that, at times, Garcia does not appear much different than backup quarterback Reid McCollum.

McCollum was 7-of-15 passing for 93 yards with one touchdown and one pick.

McCollum, a redshirt freshman, was a pocket passer at Summerville while throwing to A.J. Green, Georgia's All-SEC receiver. But McCollum has taken a liking to the quarterback options that are part of USC's new run package.

"I've been very pleased with his ability to run that. He even likes it," Mangus said. "He has really been a pleasant surprise running our run game."

While Mangus does not want Garcia to abandon his running, he also does not want the scrambles to come at the expense of the play that was called.

To that end, Mangus has been working with Garcia on focusing downfield instead of eyeing the pass rush.

"That was the big thing we talked about from spring 'til now, is keep your eyes downfield and make your feet a weapon instead of a liability," Mangus said.

Mangus, who briefly recruited Garcia for Middle Tennessee, said Garcia - like a lot of athletic quarterbacks - could get away with freelancing in high school.

Not in the SEC.

"Backyard football is kind of what he played in high school. You just take off, run around and make a play," Mangus said. "You've got to kind of hone them in."

Besides the mechanics, Spurrier continues to stress the importance of Garcia embracing all aspects of the quarterback position. Spurrier has been reluctant to heap praise on Garcia, who seldom is allowed to talk to the media and is not pictured on the cover of the media guide, schedule posters or other promotional material.

But Spurrier hopes Garcia will be the face of the program someday.

"There's so much on the quarterback. He's got about 82,000 Carolina fans at the home games depending on him. He's got about 100 teammates and coaches," Spurrier said last week on his call-in show. "So he needs to really make a total commitment. He's doing it. And if he continues to do it, I think Stephen can play very well."

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