USC still backing QB Stephen Garcia
COLUMBIA -- The South Carolina fan base might be wavering in its support of Stephen Garcia, but his coaches and teammates are still standing behind the embattled fifth-year senior quarterback.
Garcia's struggles with his accuracy this season have been well-chronicled, from the opener against East Carolina when he completed just 10 passes, to last week when he threw four interceptions against Vanderbilt. Garcia's completion percentage has tumbled to 54.7 percent this season, and he has thrown more interceptions (7) than touchdown passes (3).
Garcia was pulled in the fourth quarter against the Commodores for sophomore Connor Shaw, but South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier insists that the Gamecocks have no quarterback controversy. Garcia will make his 34th career start Saturday against Auburn.
"We're hoping Stephen's confidence will gain as the week progresses," Spurrier said. "Obviously, at the end of the last (Vanderbilt) game, it wasn't very good. But we're going to start Stephen; Stephen's going to start the
game and hopefully finish the game. We're going to try to put him in position where he can play well."
Guys who have been around Garcia for the last four years said his demeanor in the huddle hasn't changed. He's still the same quarterback who led the Gamecocks to a win over then-No. 1 Alabama and a spot in the SEC championship game a year ago.
"You can still see the fire in his eyes, the passion to complete those passes and make a big play," said offensive guard Terrence Campbell. "Maybe right now, he's just trying too hard to make the big play. When you're the quarterback, you want to make the big plays, you want to lead the team to a victory, and right now he might be trying to do a little too much. Stephen is fine."
If the Lutz, Fla., native is having any doubts about his own ability, he's not letting on to the rest of the team. The rollercoaster of emotions that Garcia has faced over the last four years has given him a mental toughness that a couple of subpar performances can't penetrate. Running back Marcus Lattimore, for one, believes that Garcia's recent outings are just a minor speed bump and that his best football is still ahead of him this season.
"Stephen isn't struggling with his confidence," Lattimore said. "He lets his instincts take over a lot of times, and that's what makes him a great player. He's been through stuff way worse than this. I think he's going to be fine."
"I really believe that he has a lot of confidence in himself," Campbell said. "His confidence isn't low, he's just struggling right now. He's going to get through it, there's no doubt about that in my mind."
Campbell said the Gamecocks are a close-knit bunch and the entire team is trying to keep Garcia's spirits up.
"We're definitely the kind of team that likes to pick guys up," Campbell said. "Anytime we see someone struggling, going through hard times, we try to lend a hand to them. We want to say positive things to them, keep 'em upbeat."
Garcia, who wasn't made available to the media on Tuesday, knows he must play better in order for the Gamecocks to get back to the SEC title game. And that will start on the practice field this week.
"Hopefully, this is the last week we play like this offensively," Garcia said after the Vanderbilt game. "I don't think we can survive playing like this. We've got to get better. We've got to start practicing better both mentally and physically and get our heads into the game."