USC Gamecocks Football

How Steve Spurrier got Stephen Garcia to play ‘game of his life’ vs No. 1 Alabama

The CBS Sports announcing duo of Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson made it seem like South Carolina was undecided at quarterback before the Gamecocks took on No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 9, 2010.

Kickoff was moments away, the broadcast was rolling, and Lundquist and Danielson had the following exchange in front of a national audience ...

Lundquist: “Stephen Garcia has been on a short leash with Steve Spurrier — that doesn’t make him unique — but no matter who starts at quarterback, it’ll be Garcia or Connor Shaw the freshman, either one is going to need some help from other guys.”

Danielson: “I think you’re exactly right, Verne.”

Danielson said such a script was the result of how USC ended its previous game — with Shaw in place of Garcia at Auburn — and how the Gamecocks looked at practice.

“Usually,” Danielson told The State, “with a big game like that, your second-team quarterback will not get reps and they gave Connor Shaw reps in practice. So this wasn’t a done deal.”

Nine years later — and on the brink of the next Carolina-Alabama game — neither Garcia nor Spurrier recall any of that. Garcia, despite the Auburn benching, was still Spurrier’s choice when the Crimson Tide came to Williams-Brice Stadium.

The only change, Garcia remembers, was Spurrier’s demeanor.

“That week of practice was probably the most chill that Coach Spurrier ever was in my entire career playing for him,” Garcia said. “He was as cool as you could possibly imagine. That’s what made me want to come to South Carolina, his attitude that week specifically.

“He was carefree. ‘We’re going to go out there and we’re going to play hard and we’re going to give ourselves a chance.’ That’s the kind of guy that I was. I didn’t like him constantly up his (butt) and chewing me out all the time.

“It was awesome. His confidence, everything about it, it was exuded throughout the whole team. I could feel it was palpable. It was my favorite week of practice. There was no question about it.

“And obviously it showed.”

Garcia, as was well-documented, wasn’t a choir boy while with the Gamecocks. He was suspended five times before being dismissed as a senior in 2011 for failing a random substance test. Some of his USC memories are better than others, but when it comes to reliving the 35-21 win over Alabama in 2010, it’s clear Garcia values that afternoon as perhaps his favorite in garnet and black.

It wasn’t just how he teamed with Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore to torch Nick Saban’s defense, it was the fact he was in sync the whole time with his coach.

“The first drive, we started off in an empty set,” Garcia said. “We had typically not done that in the past, but Coach Spurrier had some confidence in me for some reason — he never usually did, he was too busy chewing my (butt). But we went out 5-wide and he was like, ‘Look, we’re going to win this game with you. It’s kind of on your shoulders. Here’s the keys to the car and go do something.’”

Garcia completed 17-of-20 passes for 201 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.

“Stephen Garcia played the game of his life,” Spurrier said.

When did he think Garcia was on his way to that kind of performance? Well, he didn’t.

“I didn’t think in those terms,” Spurrier said. “I was trying to call the ball plays. Not too many passes, but a few here and there.”

That was by design, Danielson said.

“He flat out said to us in Thursday’s practice that he needed Garcia’s best game,” Danielson said. “He just flat out said to us, ‘I think if Stephen takes care of the ball, we have a way to move the ball.’

“If I remember correctly, they only ran something like 65 plays (57) in that football game. He slowed the game down, he never gave up on the run. And Garcia was spectacular.”

Garcia will return to Williams-Brice on Saturday for this year’s edition of USC vs. Alabama. He will lead, according to WACH Fox’s Mike Uva, the pregame “Game! Cocks!” fan cheer.

The list of quarterbacks who have taken down the Tide during Saban’s championship reign is relatively short and not lost on star power. But just remember Newton, Manziel, Watson and Lawrence did it after Stephen Garcia.

“I’m telling you, I think it was just because of Coach Spurrier and how relaxed he was the whole week of practice,” Garcia said. “I wish he would have been like that my entire career. I think it would have been a lot different. I think the outcome would have been a lot different.

“It was a very awesome week, but I just wish there would have been more like that.”

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Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.
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