By this time of the year, after 12 games, including eight against SEC opponents, it's rare to find any football player who isn't a little dinged up.
South Carolina QB Stephen Garcia hurt his right thumb in Saturday night's victory over Clemson when his hand struck a Clemson defender's helmet, an injury he addressed after the game. However, USC head coach Steve Spurrier revealed late Sunday afternoon that Garcia has a 'banged-up' left (non-throwing) shoulder as well.
As a a result, Garcia is not expected to practice early this week, but could join his teammates in workouts by the middle of the week.
"His right hand is very sore," Spurrier said Sunday during a teleconference with reporters to preview Saturday's SEC Championship game. "And his left shoulder got popped a little bit. He probably won't do too much the first couple of days this week, but hopefully by midweek or so he should be pretty close to full go. He's a little banged up right now, but he should be okay, we think."
Garcia was 14-of-30 for 227 yards and two touchdowns in USC's convincing 29-7 victory over longtime rival Clemson. Through 12 games, Garcia has completed 65.9 percent of his passes for 2,646 yards, an increase of about 10 percentage points over last season.
"Stephen has matured into a very good quarterback," Spurrier said. "(Quarterbacks coach) G.A. Mangus has spent a lot of time with him and Connor Shaw and the rest of our quarterbacks. Stephen is a player who has learned through experience how to play the game. It's just now coming to him. How to take care of the ball, how not to go down with sacks.
"Saturday night, he must have thrown four or five away out of the pocket and avoided the sack. Last year, he would have gone down with it. This year, he throwing it away and he's taking good care of the ball. He's been very productive and very smart with the ball. He makes a lot of good throws. The sort of throw-back pass to Alshon last night was close to perfect. But he can still get better, though."
Monday night, USC is expected to continue with the conditioning work and walk-through that have marked the first practice of each week since the home loss to Arkansas. USC is unbeaten since they changed the nature of Monday's practice.
"We've only changed it only a little bit after we played so poorly against Arkansas," Spurrier said. "We decided to try to do something different. We watched a lot of Arkansas tape and went out and ran around a little bit. Then we got the report Tuesday for the Florida game and started concentrating on them. We played pretty well down there. We've sort of left it like that. But we'll talk a little bit about Auburn when we meet up on Monday."
The last time USC met Auburn, freshman running back Marcus Lattimore had a season low 33 yards rushing on 14 carries in USC's 35-27 loss. That late September contest was the fourth game of his young career.
Saturday night in the Upstate, Lattimore had 48 yards rushing on 23 carries as the Clemson defensive front seven stymied USC's efforts to generate consistent production from their ground game.
"We just couldn't block much," Spurrier said. "Clemson has a big, strong defensive front. Fortunately, it was a game we didn't have to depend completely on Marcus."
Lattimore comes into the SEC Championship game with 1,114 yards on 232 carries, an average of 101.3 yards per game. It's the most rushing yards in a single season by a USC running back since Duce Staley in 1996 and the fifth highest single season total in Gamecock history.
Lattimore is also USC's third leading receiver with 23 receptions for 328 yards and two TDs.
"We knew Marcus was an outstanding running back," Spurrier said. "We didn't know he could carry the team in several big games the way he has this year. He's the guy we just kept giving the ball to. He's been better than we thought as a freshman. Hopefully, he'll have a big night Saturday in Atlanta. He's a total running back. He can do it all. He can chip off those defensive ends. He does everything we ask and he's a wonderful young man with a wonderful family. When your star players are real good teammates, you have a chance to achieve a lot as a team."
Spurrier said Lattimore didn't start the season opener against Southern Miss because he was concerned about the perception the Byrnes High graduate had been lured to USC by recruiting promises.
"The next game against Georgia is when he opened everybody's eyes when he had 37 carries for 180-something (182) yards," Spurrier said. "We noticed he was breaking tackles all over the place and going forward. That's when we realized we had a special player here."
-- Spurrier said he has spoken with the players about "playing on the big stage of college football," adding the players "got a twinkle in their eye when I say that." Spurrier said the SEC Championship game is the biggest stage in the South for college football. "Our guys have played very well in that atmosphere. Hopefully, we can have our best game of the year on Saturday night."
-- Spurrier isn't concerned USC hasn't played this season on the same field turf used by the Georgia Dome. But they did play on it a couple of times last year.
-- Spurrier said Alshon Jeffery is different from most of the Florida receivers he had in the 1990's. "The ball just sticks when it hits his hand," Spurrier said. "He has great hands and he loves to compete. He loves the big stage. He's a wonderful teammate too."
-- Spurrier said USC's biggest improvement in the last three games has been in pass defense. In addition, special teams have exhibited progress as well. Spurrier said kicker/punter Spencer Lanning (3-4 on FG, 42.7 avg on punts) might have been USC's MVP Saturday night at Clemson.
-- Spurrier said his goal when he arrived at USC was to go to the SEC Championship game and win it. "Obviously, that's still our goal," Spurrier said. "We didn't think we necessarily had the team to do it until this year."
-- Spurrier said three of USC' goals this season were winning the SEC East, winning the championship game and beating Clemson. "We'll see if we can finish off our goals," Spurrier said.
-- Personally, Spurrier said he didn't envision coaching in the SECCG again when he left Florida after the 2001 season to become head coach of the Washington Redskins because his plan at that time was to coach in the NFL five or six years and then retire.
-- Spurrier again credited USC's upgraded football facilities for helping the Gamecocks land some of the best football players.
-- Spurrier embraced the conference championship game concept from the beginning. He said Sunday it's helped more teams than it's hurt. "This is a playoff system here," Spurrier said. "I would think every coach in a conference, his main goal should be to win his conference championship every year. Getting into the national championship game is a bonus deal."
-- What about the doubters who said USC would never make it to the SECCG with Spurrier as head coach? He acknowledged those contentions were "a fair assessment when you look at the history of South Carolina football. But that was one reason I was excited about the opportunity to coach here."
-- Spurrier said he views a second matchup against Auburn as "another new game." Since the first contest occurred two months ago, Spurrier said the USC coaches will watch the tape of that game but also Auburn's last three or four games as well. "You game plan might be a little different," Spurrier said. "But we all generally do what we have to do to win games and go from there. You don't try to change too much."
-- Spurrier said the Auburn defense, though maligned at times, "rises to the occasions when they need to". Auburn is ninth in the SEC in scoring defense (25.1 ppg) and ninth in total defense (363.2 ypg). But the Tigers defense shut down Alabama in the second half of the Iron Bowl and allowed Auburn to rally for the dramatic one-point win.
-- The USC offensive line will have their hands full trying to deal with Auburn DT Nick Fairley. "We have to hope our guards and center can hold him check a little bit," Spurrier said. "We hope not to throw it 40 or 50 times. We're more of a mix it up offense."
-- Spurrier said Auburn QB Cameron Newton plays like he has "the ability not to let that bother him. He acts like he doesn't read the newspapers or hear any of it. He's a sharp young man with the ability to focus on helping his team win the game." Spurrier said Newton deserves the Heisman Trophy because he's been the most deserving and the "most dynamic player" in the country. Spurrier has a vote because he's a former winner.
-- Spurrier said one of the keys to beating Auburn is grinding out some long, time-consuming drives on offense, thereby keeping the Tigers' offense on the sidelines.
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