UK Football

'Storybook' performance earns Garcia starting job

Until Saturday, Stephen Garcia's time at South Carolina had been more like a series of cautionary tales than the feel-good stories he'd been hoping for as the highest-rated quarterback to come in under Coach Steve Spurrier.

The 6-foot-2 redshirt freshman was arrested three times during his first 15 months on campus for various violations, including underage drinking and discharging a fire extinguisher at a campus dorm.

Garcia was kicked out of student housing and prohibited from attending school this summer.

But in leading the Gamecocks to a 24-17 win at Kentucky on Saturday, Garcia hopes he has turned the page on his troubled story.

"That's pretty much storybook," Garcia said of his performance in the second half, which included the go-ahead touchdown pass to Weslye Saunders midway through the third quarter.

"With the game on the line, Stephen came through," said Spurrier, who inserted the quarterback into the game in the third quarter, hoping to jump-start his "sputtered" offense.

"Stephen surprised us all and threw the ball where guys could catch it," Spurrier said. "Pretty good for a first meaningful playing time ever."

Garcia was just the spark South Carolina needed, said Jason Barnes, who caught a 38-yard pass to set up the winning score.

"We were waiting on Garcia to go in," said Barnes, who had four catches for 88 yards. "He came out with a lot of poise and a lot of confidence.

"He was zinging them in there like he'd been doing it his whole life. That's what I like to see. That's what we needed on offense."

Changing up to Garcia was all South Carolina had to do to confound the Kentucky defense.

"When they changed quarterbacks, the pace of the game changed," junior linebacker Micah Johnson said. "It was tough for us to get the right personnel out there to match up against their offense."

Garcia ran six times for 22 yards, including a 25-yard scamper on his first series to get the Gamecocks into Kentucky territory.

He completed 10 of 14 passes for a career-best 169 yards and a touchdown.

His performance was enough to cement him as the new starter for the Gamecocks. His first start will come versus Louisiana State next week.

"We're going to play Garcia now," Spurrier said. "We're going to play Stephen. He's earned it. He's our quarterback."

It's a long way away from where Garcia was a few months ago, when he was banished back home to Tampa, Fla., for the summer.

Garcia plans to keep writing his own story, but this time with his play on the field instead of his misplays off it.

"I'm just gonna stay low to the ground and keep a low profile and go from there," he said.