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Search for offense looks like a scramble

'Running was the best thing,' Spurrier says of how Garcia stepped in to rush for 86 yards and a score

jperson@thestate.com
Posted on 09.28.08

Steve Spurrier is still looking for a downfield passing attack, but the South Carolina coach found another runner.

Heralded since his high schools days in Tampa for his strong right arm, Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia showed off two other attributes — quick feet and a hard head — in the most extensive action of his career.

Garcia threw for 131 yards and a touchdown and ran for 86 yards and a score Saturday to lead the Gamecocks to a 26-13 victory against Alabama-Birmingham that Spurrier described as ugly.

USC (3-2) improved to 11-1 in its past 12 nonconference games. But the sledding gets harder next week for the Gamecocks at Mississippi, which shocked No. 4 Florida 31-30 on Saturday at The Swamp.

Spurrier said Garcia would play a lot against the Rebels, but was uncertain whether Garcia had done enough to earn his first career start.

“Garcia did some good things in there — running was the best thing,” Spurrier said. “He was our leading rusher with 86 yards. So he gives us a chance to run out of the pocket and make some yards.”

Garcia’s 18 carries produced the highest rushing total by a USC quarterback since Corey Jenkins ran for 101 yards in a 13-7 loss to Georgia on Sept. 14, 2002.

The 6-foot-2, 221-pound Garcia was sacked once and acted surprised when told how many times he ran.

“Whenever I scrambled it was pretty much open field, so I just got as much as I could get,” he said. “I got enough bruises and bumps, so they told me I need to learn to start sliding or run out of bounds.”

Ryan Succop set a career high with four field goals, connecting from 44, 48, 26 and 24 yards. The senior from Hickory, N.C., became the first USC kicker to hit four field goals since Steve Florio against East Carolina on Sept. 20, 1997.

Making his fourth consecutive start, Chris Smelley led the Gamecocks to a field goal on their opening drive before giving way to Garcia. In 32 first-half plays after replacing Smelley, Garcia ran or threw the ball 26 times as the Gamecocks built a 20-6 halftime lead.

Garcia guided the Gamecocks to scores on four of his eight drives, departing after throwing an interception with 2:40 remaining in the third quarter. Smelley and opening-game starter Tommy Beecher finished up, combining to complete 5 of 13 passes for 64 yards and no touchdowns.

Smelley was intercepted once; Beecher was sacked twice.

Meanwhile, Garcia accounted for 217 yards of total offense and USC’s two touchdowns.

A couple of UAB defensive players said Garcia’s running presented a different look, but Blazers coach Neil Callaway was unimpressed.

“I guess they think that he is more athletic than the other two, but he’s not an athlete that is going to be a difference-maker in my opinion,” Callaway said. “I think they all are very similar to be honest with you.”

Garcia’s first career touchdown pass — a 13-yarder to tailback Brian Maddox on a drag route — put the Gamecocks up 10-3.

Garcia had USC on the move on its next drive before the Blazers came up with a goalline stop that included a big hit by Brandon Carlisle on Garcia at the 1-yard line at the end of a 5-yard run on third-and-goal.

“I didn’t think that guy was going to run that fast. I thought I had it easy. That won’t happen again,” Garcia said. “It didn’t hurt that bad, though. It was just pretty embarrassing seeing it on that big screen.”

A season-long, 36-yard punt return by Munnerlyn gave the Gamecocks another first-and-goal. This time Garcia cashed in on third-and-goal, jumping into the end zone for a 5-yard run to give USC a 17-3 lead midway through the second quarter.

The Gamecocks’ defense did the rest. UAB (1-4) did not pick up a first down until the 6:39 mark of the second quarter, and its only score — a 1-yard sneak by quarterback Joe Webb — came with 24 seconds left against USC’s second- and third-teamers.

But Spurrier was looking for more offense against a Blazers’ defense that was allowing 35 points a game and was ranked 117th out of 119 teams nationally in pass defense and total defense.

Regardless of who was under center, USC’s timing was off on most of the deep throws.

Brandon Carlisle picked off Garcia on a long pass intended for Joe Hills near the goal line. When Smelley hit Jason Barnes for an apparent 28-yard touchdown pass in the second half, the play was nullified by an offensive pass interference call against Barnes.

The Gamecocks threw for 195 yards with no completions longer than 23 yards.

“I thought we had a chance to score a lot of points and get everybody in the game. But we didn’t do it. We just couldn’t do it,” Spurrier said. “We tried. We called plays to throw it down the field, and we just couldn’t quite hit.”

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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GO GAMECOCKS!