Consider the competition for South Carolina’s starting quarterback open again.
Coach Steve Spurrier said as much after Saturday night’s turnover-filled fourth quarter in the 35-27 loss to Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers converted both of junior quarterback Stephen Garcia’s fumbles in that period — one at the USC 26 and the other at the Auburn 47 — into touchdowns that keyed their come-from-behind victory.
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And when Spurrier went to backup Connor Shaw, the freshman threw a pair of interceptions, one at the Auburn 11-yard line with 3:19 to play and the other in the Auburn end zone with 33 seconds remaining. Although both quarterbacks did some good things — Garcia threw for 235 yards and three touchdowns, and Shaw added 70 passing yards in limited time — Spurrier wants to see fewer mistakes in crucial situations.
That means he is giving both quarterbacks a crack at the job it appeared Garcia had solidified.
“Connor’s got to get a look. He played pretty well,” said Spurrier, assessing the situation heading into the Gamecocks’ off week before they play No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 9.
Garcia, who was frustrated by his two turnovers after playing three strong quarters, seemed resigned to battling for his job, just as he did all through August camp.
“I expect it,” said Garcia, who started all 13 games in 2009 and the first four this season. “I expected it since he (Shaw) came (to USC) in the spring.”
Shaw had little to say about possibly taking the starter’s role.
“That’s not my call,” he said.
Both were disappointed that USC let the game slip away after building a 13-point lead in the first half.
“We had our chances to win in the second half, and we should have won,” Garcia said.
The first fumble came soon after Auburn missed a 23-yard field goal to start the fourth quarter, which appeared to be a momentum killer. But Garcia fumbled after a hit by Daren Bates at the Auburn 26 while battling to get more yards, and four plays later, the Tigers found the end zone for a 28-27 lead.
“That gave momentum right back to them,” Garcia said.
The second fumble came when the Gamecocks were driving for a go-ahead score, but he couldn’t find an open receiver on third-and-8 and lost the ball when sacked. Spurrier lamented after the game that Garcia should have thrown the ball. The Tigers then moved 53 yards in nine plays to cement their lead.
Shaw got his opportunity on USC’s next possession.
“That’s why I prepare all week in practice,” Shaw said.
And even after his first interception, he moved USC down the field to the Auburn 18 on a last-gasp drive in an attempt to tie the game. It didn’t end until Alshon Jeffery couldn’t hang onto a pass in the end zone that Demond Washington picked off.
“You think he’ll come down with it, but it doesn’t always happen like that,” Shaw said of Jeffery, who was hit on the play by Auburn’s Zac Etheridge, which caused him to lose it.
Garcia completed 15 of 21 throws, with scoring tosses of 30 and 6 yards to Jeffery and 3 yards to Tori Gurley, while Shaw completed 4 of 8. Shaw, whose interceptions were the first of his young career, believes the Gamecocks will regroup in the off week.
“It’s probably a good thing that we get some time off to rest and heal up,” he said.
Garcia, who has completed 56 of 81 passes, a 69 percent rate, for 743 yards and five touchdowns this season, said the only thing for the No. 12 Gamecocks (3-1) to do is look ahead.
“We’ve still got to move forward and get ready for Alabama,” he said.
But now Spurrier must figure out which quarterback will start.