South Carolina QB Garcia surprised by benching

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP/ — South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia was surprised when he got pulled down the stretch against Auburn, yet pledged to listen to coach Steve Spurrier and improve his running technique.

Garcia said Wednesday that he spent the past two practices running with his head up instead of down, something Spurrier says is a dangerous way to play football.

Garcia fumbled twice in the fourth quarter in a 35-27 loss at No. 10 Auburn last Saturday. Then Garcia watched as freshman backup Connor Shaw led the Gamecocks final two drives, both which ended with interceptions.

Spurrier says Garcia must do a better job protecting the football.

No. 20 South Carolina (3-1) is off Saturday. It next faces top-ranked Alabama on Oct. 9.

Garcia knows that he can't lower his head and use it as a battering ram. That's the part he understands. He's going to try to run in a more conventional manner, even though he runs now the way he's run his entire life. What he can't promise is a complete departure from his physical running style.

"It's going to be pretty hard for me to slide," Garcia said, hair still dripping from afternoon rain showers. "That's just the kind of person I am. I guess we'll find out."

In Garcia's defense, this season, Spurrier has publicly asked for Garcia to get low and dive forward. Now he wants his quarterback to not only keep his head up but also avoid hits.

"It's a hard habit to get out of," Garcia said. "You see a bunch of 260-pound guys running at you and it's hard to run with your face straight up. I'm going to try to work on it and I'm going to start getting on the ground. That's what I have to start doing – avoiding hits."

Depending on the press conference, Spurrier has also gone back and forth on why Garcia was benched in favor of freshman Connor Shaw for the last two series against Auburn. While the redshirt junior was knocked a bit woozy, which happened on a designed quarterback run, Spurrier pointed on Monday to the fact that the two fumbles prompted the move.

Whether it was the actual hits, the running style, or the fumbles, Garcia was a bit surprised to see Shaw get the call with under seven minutes left in a one-score game against Auburn.

"I don't think anyone will get used to (being benched)," Garcia said. "It definitely hurt. I didn't like to have that happen to me. That's what happened but I can't fumble twice. That's the main reason why he took me out. I just have to play better and play smarter."

On Tuesday, Spurrier named Garcia the starter for the Alabama game next Saturday with the caveat that should the head-as-a-battering-ram running style come back, he'll turn to his backup.

Head coach Steve Spurrier has challenged Garcia to change his running style and the offensive line to play with more effort.

Shaw, as he was at Auburn, insists he'll be ready. Spurrier has rotated quarterbacks throughout his career whenever he sees fit and this year may be no exception. If it does come to that, Shaw doesn't think that rotating quarterbacks will be a problem.

"It's just trying to execute the play that's called. You have to know what's going on at all times," Shaw said. "We (rotate) enough in practice that it will just come as it is in a game."

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