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Garcia more focused for this year's bowl

South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia, makes a pass down field, as he gets protection from Clemson defensive tackle Miguel Chavis during the second half of their NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2009, at Williams-Brice Stadium, in Columbia, S.C.
South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia, makes a pass down field, as he gets protection from Clemson defensive tackle Miguel Chavis during the second half of their NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2009, at Williams-Brice Stadium, in Columbia, S.C.

Quarterback Stephen Garcia endured a painful learning experience last season at the Outback Bowl.

Lesson No. 1: leave the video games at home.

The South Carolina quarterback was the key cog in the Outback's marketing campaign. The game was billed as a homecoming for Garcia, a Tampa, Fla., native whom USC coach Steve Spurrier named the starter over Chris Smelley a week before bowl bids were announced.

Garcia enjoyed a round of golf, practiced at his old high school field and caught up with friends and family members. It was a good week - until the game started.

Garcia's four turnovers on the Gamecocks' first four possessions against Iowa put USC in a 21-0 hole en route to a 31-10 loss.

Garcia said Thursday he might have had too much fun. The night before the game, Spurrier was incensed when he found out Garcia was playing a video game instead of reviewing the game plan.

"I'm not going to tell you what he said," Garcia said. "But it wasn't good."

Making matters worse, it was not a football game Garcia was playing, but "Call of Duty," a popular military game.

Garcia said he will not be packing his game console for the trip to Birmingham, Ala., for the Jan. 2 Papajohns.com Bowl.

"He was right," Garcia said of Spurrier's reaction. "I should have been going over tape or going over plays or something like that."

But Garcia has been a different quarterback in his first full season as a starter. He benefited from the departure of Smelley and the arrival of G.A. Mangus, the first-year quarterbacks coach, who told Garcia he would start with a clean slate.

With Smelley gone to Alabama to play baseball, the quarterback job was Garcia's to lose - and he did nothing to put it in jeopardy.

The right-hander played with confidence and made better decisions. After averaging an interception once every 15.3 passes last season, Garcia averaged one pick every 43.8 pass attempts in 2009.

Garcia had just one game in which he threw more than one interception (two, against Florida). He increased his completion rate from 53 percent to 56 percent and finished the regular season ranked second in the SEC in passing yardage (227.8 per game) behind Arkansas' Ryan Mallett.

Last year's Outback experience seems like a distant memory - particularly since Garcia has avoided watching tape of the game.

"That's completely out of my brain right now," he said.

Spurrier dismissed the notion that Garcia felt the pressure to perform well in the city where he became one of the country's top-rated dual-threat quarterbacks.

"He went out and played golf as soon as he got down there, I heard. He and his dad and his brother. So they weren't too uptight about it," Spurrier said. "He just wasn't ready. That's all you can say. He's much better prepared now, and he's thinking a lot better. He should play a lot better this game."

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