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November 8, 2010

Garcia: USC Must Show Better Focus

If you're South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia, it might be a good thing head coach Steve Spurrier has been hesitant lately to talk about your performance.

It happened again Sunday afternoon.

About 16 hours after USC succumbed to Arkansas, 41-20, at Williams-Brice Stadium in a contest in which Garcia completed less than one-half of his passes (14-of-29) for the first time this season and threw two interceptions in the third quarter, Spurrier was asked Sunday by a reporter to evaluate his starting quarterback's progress.

He answered with a non-answer.

"It seems like every time I talk about Stephen, somebody says I'm being critical of him," Spurrier said. "You guys (the media) all watch the games. You see how he played. You can talk about him however you'd like."

Garcia, though, was willing to discuss his performance following only his third loss at home as a starter since 2008. He threw for 161 yards, which accounted for 54.6 percent of USC's total offensive output of 295 yards.

Garcia received little support from the ground game, which mustered only 79 yards on 20 carries through three quarters and ended up with 105 yards total.

"I don't really know what happened with the run game," Garcia said. "We have to run the ball a lot better and keep our defense off the field. We have to have a lot more offensive plays. Hopefully, we can step up our run game and step up our entire game offensively and defensively as a team."

The tone for the night was set in the early stages when Garcia threw three straight incompletions as USC went three-and-out on their first possession. One of those throws was a deep pass down the middle that was just out of reach of D.L. Moore.

Everything came together for Garcia on USC's second drive when he led a nine-play, 76-yard march towards the game-tying touchdown. He completed all four of his passes for 68 yards, making him 4-of-7 after USC's first two possessions.

On USC's first possession of the second quarter, USC sought to take advantage of good field position (UA 48) brought about by a career kickoff return 37-yard kickoff return by Bryce Sherman following an Arkansas field goal.

It took only four plays to zip down the field into the red zone. The final play in that sequence was a sensational one-handed grab by Alshon Jeffery to move the ball to the UA 6.

However, possibly USC's best play of the night was followed immediately by one of the worst when Garcia was sacked for a 10-yard loss back to the US 16.

The sack was quickly followed by a missed field goal and a series of bad plays that produced a 24-10 deficit at halftime.

Garcia was 11-of-22 for 142 yards in the first half.

"We moved the ball pretty well in the first half, but we just had some stupid things happen," Garcia said. "The (offensive) interference, the missed field goal, we had a lot of missed opportunities there in the first half. We can't afford to have those things happen."

Trailing by two touchdowns, USC showed signs of life when strong safety DeVonte Holloman intercepted a Arkansas pass after the Razorbacks Had moved into the end zone looking to take a three-touchdown lead.

However, on a third-and-5 play from USC 20, Garcia's pass was intercepted by Arkansas and returned to the 20. They wasted no time in scoring another TD to make it 31-10.

"I kind of got flustered and rattled a little bit," Garcia said. "I saw (USC receiver) D.L. Moore standing there, and once I threw it, he kind of left it, and the guy broke on it and picked it off, which hurt. We've just got to practice the scramble play. I don't think we practiced it enough. We've just got to play a lot smarter. We didn't play very smart tonight.

"They played a lot of zone coverage, but we knew that coming in. They ran a lot of cover 2 and cover 4. We just had a lot of plays that could have gone our way, but didn't. We had a few drops and I led a few guys too far sometimes and some guys not far enough. It was those kinds of things that hurt us."

USC's 10th and final snap of the third quarter ended in disaster again when Garcia was picked off for the second time in the quarter.

That turned out to Garcia's final snap of the night. When the USC offense returned to the field early in the fourth quarter, they trailed 41-10 and Connor Shaw was the quarterback.

"I think it (poor game) caught everybody off guard," Garcia said. 'Everybody knows it didn't mean a whole lot, but that wasn't our mentality going in. We wanted to have some momentum going into Florida. Maybe it was a good thing this happened. Maybe we'll have a better week of practice and get ready for a SEC East championship. This week is the most important game in South Carolina history. We just have to have a better week of practice. We have to be a lot more focused."

Once Florida trounced Vanderbilt early Saturday afternoon, was USC caught looking ahead to the showdown in the Swamp with the Gators?

"I don't think anybody was looking ahead to the Florida game, but I think that was in everybody's minds," Garcia said. "We can't really make any excuses. This was a bad game. I think we're a different team, but saying it and doing it are two different things. We just have to go out and show it next week."

Since Garcia grew up in Tampa, Fla., does the winner-take-all game in the Swamp mean a little extra to him?

"That doesn't really factor in," Garcia insisted. "I'm playing in South Carolina and I've been in South Carolina for four years now. I have a South Carolina (driver's) license. So, that doesn't really matter to me. I'm just worried about winning the game and playing a lot better."

Garcia had to adjust to a new snapper in the third quarter when T.J. Johnson exited with a sprained knee and was replaced by freshman Ronald Patrick.

"He snapped the ball pretty well," Garcia said. "I can't make any negative comments about him. I don't know how his blocking was, but his snaps were fine.'

At the end of the game, Garcia acknowledged Lattimore's importance to the offense. Lattimore has missed some action with a sprained ankle and then a sprained knee, and USC sorely misses his presence on the field.

"He's a great player, and everybody knows that, but he's just one player on the team," Garcia said. "We have to play a lot better than that."

Despite his below par night throwing the football, Garcia still managed to move up to fourth on USC's all-time passing list, moving past Phil Petty and Anthony Wright into fourth with 5,759 passing yards.

With a minimum of four games remaining, Garcia should be well past the 6,000 yardage mark and should be the third leading passer in USC history behind Todd Ellis (9,953) and Steve Taneyhill (8,782) by the time USC's bowl game ends. Right now, Garcia is only 233 yards behind Blake Mitchell in third place and needs 241 yards to reach 6,000 yards in his career.

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