Stephen Garcia Benched for South Carolina Opener

By: Kim Allen Email
By: Kim Allen Email

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Steve Spurrier is at it again with his

The South Carolina coach said Thursday he sitting fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia in favor of last year's backup, Connor Shaw, to start the season for the 12th-ranked Gamecocks. Spurrier said the sophomore outperformed Garcia -- who started the past 28 games at South Carolina -- during preseason camp and would open against East Carolina on Saturday night in Charlottte.

Garcia is expected to play the second quarter against the Pirates and Spurrier will decide who plays the second half.

"Both of them have done well but Connor has very much, statistically and everything else, played a little bit better than Stephen has," Spurrier said on his call-in radio show.

It's the latest twist in Spurrier's up-and-down relationship with Garcia, who has been suspended five times at South Carolina including twice this spring. Garcia is coming off his best season in the program, helping the Gamecocks to the Southeastern Conference title game after throwing for 3,059 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2010.

He was near perfect in South Carolina's upset of then No. 1 Alabama, going 17 of 20 for 201 yards and three TDs. But Garcia was as lost as the rest of the team down the stretch in losses to Auburn in the SEC championship and Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Garcia threw five interceptions, more than a third of his season's total of 14, in those defeats. Then came the suspensions, the latest was in April less than two weeks after Garcia pledged he wouldn't mess up again.

Garcia was held out of all team activity through Memorial Day and allowed to back on a probationary basis until August. Spurrier was very complimentary of Garcia's lifestyle change and dedication to the position throughout the summer.

Still, Spurrier kept talking up Shaw as a rising quarterback who had taken major steps forward during the offseason.

"He played better than Stephen Garcia simple as that," Spurrier said. "That's the fair way to do it."

Or at least the Spurrier way.

The former Heisman Trophy winning passer at Florida has a short
leash for his quarterbacks. While coaching the Gators to six SEC
titles and a national championship, Spurrier has benched standouts
like Terry Dean, Doug Johnson and Rex Grossman -- in one week and out the next.

Spurrier has proudly told the story of how he sat Danny Wuerffel
-- the eventual Heisman winner -- in the first quarter of the first
game of the team's 1996 national title because the offense "looked
like they had read their press clippings all summer."

And the shuffling hasn't stopped at South Carolina. In 2008, Tommy Beecher was Spurrier's unquestioned Gamecocks starter, until he threw four interceptions in the team's opener that year against North Carolina State and played only sparing until leaving after the season.

The passer who replaced Beecher, Chris Smelley, also left after that season -- to play baseball at Alabama. Spurrier even alternated Smelley and Garcia nearly every down during a victory against Arkansas.

Last year, Spurrier yanked Garcia out down the stretch in a 35-27 regular-season loss at Auburn as Shaw, then a freshman, threw
two interceptions. Neither Garcia nor Shaw were made available for interviews by Spurrier this week.

Garcia was asked last week how he held up in competition when experienced quarterbacks at other programs might not face as much to keep their jobs.

"I've been doing it since I've been here really," Garcia said. "The past two years with Connor we've been competing every single week. So it is what it is."

Shaw completed 23 of 33 passes for 233 yards, a touchdown and
those two late interceptions against Auburn. Spurrier said Garcia will have plenty of chances to start games this season if he earns it.

"There's a fallacy in football that your starting quarterback has to play the whole way the whole season," Spurrier said. "It's not true. You play your best players all the time and you should have competition for playing time all the time. I believe that and that's the way I've always

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