No one is questioning the effort. It was obvious that Stephen Garcia didn't care about how bruised he might get against Southern Miss, ramming his body into several defenders at once and emerging with two rushing touchdowns.
But there are 11 games left to go, more if South Carolina can go to a bowl or -- dare the Gamecocks dream -- the SEC championship game.
Guts and toughness are great, but when it's the quarterback who's sacrificing his health, it gets a bit concerning.
"We tell him not to lead with his head," coach Steve Spurrier said on Tuesday. "I wish he would sort of tuck it a little bit and not lead with his head. He's trying to get his shoulders more into it. Obviously, Stephen needs to run occasionally, not a lot. We encourage him to run every now and then, but encourage him to try and find a little hole in there to try and fall forward."
After a first series of stagnant offense against USM, Garcia hit a 17-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery that got the Gamecocks moving. USC (1-0) marched to the Golden Eagles' 22-yard-line, where Garcia took the snap and rolled right.
Seeing his receivers covered, Garcia sprinted to the right and hit the sideline. Finding enough room to move the chains, he ran forward, lowered his head and collided with a USM defender, hard enough to leave each set of shoulder pads popping.
The knock didn't stop him -- he simply spun in bounds and kept going, diving over the goal line for the season's first touchdown.
"We tell him to find a little hole and sort of dive in there, but he's a big guy, and obviously, his first touchdown run, he ran over that guy about the 8-yard-line and caromed into the end zone," Spurrier said after the game. "That was a heck of a play."
He was at it again in the third, after a 31-yard sideline toss to Ace Sanders became a first-and-goal at the 3. Again rolling out and finding no one, Garcia again decided to go for it.
The redshirt senior was met with a crunch at the line, but somehow stuck the ball out as he spun and got it over the plane. Ruled a touchdown on replay, it was Garcia's last play of the night.
He ended with five carries for 38 yards, two touchdowns and one achy noggin. Garcia sticking his nose into a pileup or taking chances was no surprise and very admirable, but there was worry.
"That last one, yeah, they kind of rang my bell a little bit," Garcia said. "It's still kind of sore. I was contemplating jumping over him, but I already said I'm not doing that again. I don't know how I scored. But they gave it to me."
"On his second touchdown the other night, we said, 'Stephen, it was first down,'" Spurrier said. "'All you need is get it back to the 1-yard-line.' He actually reached it across the goal line to score. If they come and knock it out of his hands, that wouldn't have been very smart on first down. But anyway, we're telling him to protect himself a little bit better as he runs."
Garcia played very well against USM, getting rid of the ball and avoiding any injury by not taking any sacks. That could get negated with any more lead-with-the-helmet rushing attempts.
As long as he protects himself, though, it brings another tweak to a thus-far dynamic USC offense.
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