Who didn’t see this coming? The first clue was back in the spring when Steve Spurrier began to question Stephen Garcia’s work ethic and dedication. It continued during the summer when the Head Ball Coach refused to name Garcia his starter, waiting until just a couple of days before the season opener to hint he would go with Garcia. Even when he opted for Garcia he implied it was more because of Garcia’s experience than his ability.
If it wasn’t clear then that the Spurrier was tired of waiting on Garcia to step up, it became crystal clear with a little over six minutes in the Auburn game Saturday night when he benched the junior signal caller in favor of the true freshman Connor Shaw. Spurrier was so fed up with Garcia he took a kid that has never played in an SEC game and threw him in, on the road no less, with the game still in the balance.
At first I was shocked Spurrier made the move, I thought it was a mistake. Then, I thought about it and realized it was the right call. It was a gutsy call, but the right one.
I’ve said for the past two weeks that if USC is going to win big in the SEC Garcia can’t continue to make mistakes like missing open receivers, fumbling and throwing inexcusable interceptions. Garcia managed to get away with these miscues against inferior opponents in the first three weeks. He didn’t against Auburn and he won’t against any of the other SEC teams outside of Vanderbilt left the Gamecocks schedule.
Garcia said after the Georgia game that he “was still getting used to the SEC speed.” I was stunned when I heard him say that. A redshirt junior should be used to the speed of the game. That comment, to me, was very revealing. I think about those words as I watch Garcia hesitate to throw the football during a play, opting instead to scramble around with his head down and the football unprotected. How many times have we seen Garcia fumble away the ball scrambling for a few extra yards? You gave him a pass as a freshman and even as a sophomore, but there is no excuse for turning the ball over this much as a junior.
Shaw entered the game and made some nice throws and moved the team into scoring position during both of his drives. Unfortunately, both opportunities were squandered by interceptions. The first interception was a bad read by Shaw. The second pick was more of a bad break than a bad throw.
I’m not here to make excuses for Shaw. He’s a freshman and if he plays he is going to make mistakes like the ones we saw at Auburn. You have to give the kid credit for coming in cold off the bench in front of 87,000 hostile fans and giving his team a chance. He showed, if anything, he isn’t easily rattled.
We will never know what would have happened if Garcia would have stayed in the game. Maybe he would have thrown his fourth touchdown pass, or maybe he would have lost his third straight fumble. Garcia’s inconsistency has been and continues to be his biggest problem.
You can’t win an SEC title with a true freshman at quarterback, if he’s had a red-shirt year to learn the system fine, but not as a true freshman. That is why it made sense for Spurrier to roll Garcia out as his starter this season. The Gamecocks goal was to win the SEC East. The hope was as a junior Garcia would make strides and elevate his game. Shaw would provide competition each day and could perhaps help push Garcia. That was the idea anyway.
Garcia has improved this year, but he is clearly still too inconsistent to be counted on to win big games. He is 0-6 on the road as a starter. So, if you are going to take some lumps, would it not be better to take them with the freshman that has more upside? That is the question Spurrier will have to answer during the bye week.
You get the feeling Spurrier is still holding out hope the light will come on for Garcia. Maybe getting benched at Auburn will be the cold splash of water Garcia needs to elevate his game. If not, it is clear that Spurrier is ready to move on without him.