Don’t tell USC quarterback Stephen Garcia bowl games are a reward for a fine season. His three starts for USC in bowl games have been nothing short of hell on earth.
In the 2009 Outback Bowl loss to Iowa, Garcia was 9-18 for 79 yards, 3 interceptions and a lost fumble in just the first half before being benched.
In the 2010 Papajohns.com Bowl loss to Connecticut, Garcia was 16-38 for 129 yards with 1 interception and 1 lost fumble in a performance that left him in tears afterwards.
And in Friday night’s Chick-Fil-A-Bowl loss to Florida State, Garcia was 19-34 for 243 yards and 3 interceptions.
If you’re keeping score at home, that’s nine turnovers for Garcia in three bowl losses with zero touchdown passes.
To Garcia’s credit Friday night, he did not wilt after his third pick midway thru the second quarter. He settled down and completed 13 of his next 18 passes. And he got his team in position for a chance to win in the fourth quarter.
No doubt the Gamecock gameplan was severely damaged by the early loss to injury of running back Marcus Lattimore. The standout freshman had already made his presence felt with a 53 yard pass reception on the third play of the game which put the Gamecocks at the FSU 26. He was injured two plays later. All of a sudden, the Gamecocks were without one of their major weapons.
Kenny Miles and Brian Maddox stepped in for Lattimore and did an admirable job. They combined for 123 rushing yards on 22 carries. Miles had 70 yards on ten attempts nearly matching his season’s total coming into the game of 82 yards.
Alshon Jeffery had another big night for the Gamecocks with a season high matching 9 catches for 130 yards. But his fumble at the Florida State 27 in the third quarter killed off a potential scoring drive.
The Gamecocks finished with 414 total yards while the defense limited the Seminoles to just 308 yards, their second lowest total of the season (Clemson held FSU to 307 yards). But they did give up 218 rushing yards including 147 to Chris Thompson who is just the third running back to go over 100 yards against the Gamecocks this season.
Despite having its back to the wall repeatedly due to turnovers, the defense did not break and yielded just two field goals off those turnovers. But when the defense needed to come up with a stop after the Gamecocks pulled to within two points in the fourth quarter, it could not.
The Gamecocks finish the season at 9-5, the third time in school history they’ve won as many as nine games in a season. USC will open the 2011 season September 3rd in Charlotte against East Carolina.