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Posted: Thursday September 8, 2011 1:24PM ; Updated: Thursday September 8, 2011 3:45PM

Garcia regains South Carolina's starting QB job

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Stephen Garcia will start for South Carolina after sitting the first quarter of the opener against East Carolina.
Stephen Garcia will start for South Carolina after sitting the first quarter of the opener against East Carolina.
Jim Dedmon/Icon SMI

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Coming off the bench, starting - it doesn't change how Stephen Garcia prepares.

The fifth-year South Carolina senior is once again the starting quarterback for the 12th-ranked Gamecocks after losing the job to Connor Shaw last week. Garcia's benching lasted until the second quarter against East Carolina; he entered game with the Gamecocks trailing 17-0 led them to a 56-37 victory.

His performance was enough to put him back under center when South Carolina begins defense of its Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title at Georgia on Saturday.

Garcia said he'll prepare as he usually does with the focus on football and not on the drama that seems to swirl around him.

"This week, it's not any different, just knowing I'm starting doesn't really make a difference," said Garcia, who was 7 of 15 for 110 yards against East Carolina. "I'm not even thinking about last week."

Short-term memory works best for Garcia, who has a lengthy past of problems with the Gamecocks.

He's been suspended five times since arriving on campus, including twice this past spring - the last time after guaranteeing in March he'd have no addition problems during his final months at South Carolina.

When Garcia was reinstated to the team by coach Steve Spurrier, athletic director Eric Hyman and university president Harris Pastides, he was told there'd be an open quarterback competition. Spurrier said Shaw outperformed Garcia during summer workouts.

"I don't think that was a punishment at all," Garcia said of last week's benching. "As coach stated and as I said before, Connor played better in the scrimmages and in the preseason camp."

In the game, though, Garcia proved again to be South Carolina's best option.

"When you play the real games, that's when it counts, that's when it counts for everybody," Spurrier said.

It took him five plays to score the Gamecocks first touchdown, a nifty 32-yard run that he says instantly brought him a sense of relief that he was finally back playing football.

"My main focus was definitely getting back with the team," Garcia said.

Garcia's steady hand kept pushing the Gamecocks forward to victory after a first-half with four fumbles, including one by Shaw. Garcia told his sophomore backup to keep strong in the face of critics, a technique Garcia has used to blunt harsh words from fans, outsiders and even at times, his head coach.

Spurrier has criticized Garcia's work ethic, decision making and penchant for leading with his helmet instead of sliding. The coach also has praised Garcia several times since the reinstatement for his lifestyle changes and his renewed dedication on improving his play.

"I don't think he's nervous about his first start of the year," Spurrier said. "No, we're just getting ready to play the game."

Garcia had 3,059 passing yards and 20 touchdowns last season. He was voted to the preseason all-SEC second team with Georgia sophomore Aaron Murray on the first team. Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham thinks Garcia keeps plays alive with his running and finds ways to get the ball off to Gamecock receivers.

"He's a scrappy guy. He's hard to tackle," Grantham said. "On loose plays, he'll try to make things happen. He came in the other night and took them to victory. He had some big runs and did some good things."

That was the case in last year's game with Georgia, a 17-6 victory that set off the Gamecocks run to the SEC East title. Garcia was a very efficient 12 of 17 passing for 165 yards as South Carolina relied on freshman Marcus Lattimore to control things with a 182 yards rushing on 37 carries.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
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