COLUMBIA, SC (TheBigSpur) - And all of Gamecock Nation exhaled.
South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia took to the practice field on Wednesday afternoon with a thin, flexible shoulder harness and didn't show any signs of problems during the two hour workout days before the biggest football game in school history.
Garcia injured his left, non-throwing shoulder after being tackled in the Clemson game but he soldiered through the pain. He also jammed the thumb on his throwing hand in the first quarter of that game but played on. Monday, he had his arm in a sling causing an uproar and, apparently, the game to be taken off the betting boards in Las Vegas.
On Wednesday, everything was fine.
"He threw it around and took all the reps," quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus said. "Most of his reps, he had a (brace/harness) on his shoulder just for tonight to kind of see how it felt. He did alright. He threw the ball around, feels good. Felt a lot better today."
And as for the thumb? "He'll be fine."
Garcia had one of his best games of the season the first time around against Auburn (12-0, 8-0), however, what most remember is the fact he was benched for the final two drives of the game in favor of freshman Connor Shaw. The redshirt junior fumbled twice giving the Tigers a short field, which took away from three quarters of brilliance.
Garcia completed 15-of-21 passes for 234 yards and three touchdowns in the game. He didn't have any interceptions and gained 21 yards on the ground. But what he did do was lower his head when taking off with the football and fumbled on a pair of occasions. Those fumbles led to the go-ahead points.
"He played really good for three quarters," Mangus said. "That was the shame of it that the two plays kind of overshadowed that he played real well in a hostile environment. Made a few good checks and all that. He's been much better taking care of the ball, run with his head up, fall forward, not take as many hits. I think it's a different Stephen Garcia now and hopefully he learned a valuable lesson that night."
Since that time, Garcia has taken care of the football. Over the last three games, he hasn't fumbled or even thrown an interception. Sack numbers are down and so are the mistakes from the quarterback.
"Taking care of the football is always the number one priority," Mangus said. "Always has been. When we do that, we give ourselves a fighting chance to win."
Garcia has led the Gamecocks to some of the biggest wins in program history and has the team in the first SEC Championship game ever.
"I think it's just overall maturity in game management," Mangus said of the ways Garcia has improved since the first Auburn game. "You've seen in the last month, throw the ball away, not taking a sack, not throwing the ball in dangerous territories – some of the plays he's made in the past. The way he's carrying himself and everything, I'm pretty pleased with the improvement of that area in maturity. It's nice to see and I think its paying dividends. Hopefully it will on Saturday."
And if it doesn't, it won't be because of the injury.
"He's a tough kid," Mangus said. "He'll be fine."