The #10 South Carolina Gamecocks, a week removed from their upset of #1 Alabama, loses to unranked Kentucky 31-28.
Despite the career day by Stephen Garcia, who threw for a career high 382 yards, the Gamecocks let a Kentucky team, who ranked 19th in the country on offense, stay in the game even with a 28-10 halftime advantage.
An injury to freshman phenom Marcus Lattimore contributed to the stagnant offense by the Gamecocks in the second half. Lattimore had three touchdowns and 212 combined yards of offense.
(Lattimore was not on crutches following the game. The injury is being classified as a left ankle sprain. Lattimore says that he expects to be ready for Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt.)
However a blown coverage by the South Carolina defense allowed Kentucky to take the lead late in the 4th quarter. A 24 yard reception from Mike Hartline to Randall Cobb, followed by a successful 2-point conversion gave Kentucky the three-point lead.
Stephen Garcia led the Gamecocks back down the field. A ill-advised play, called presumably by Steve Spurrier, was intended for Lamar Scruggs, a redshirt freshman with only two career receptions. The Garcia pass was tipped into the air and intercepted by Kentucky’s Anthony Mosley.
Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline, who one year ago suffered a season-ending knee injury against South Carolina, demonstrated that he was a rising star in the SEC, throwing for 349 yards and four touchdowns.
It is easy to blame the defense for a blown coverage, the four turnovers, inability to stop an all-purpose athlete such as Randall Cobb, continuing the maturation process of quarterback Mike Hartline, and a mistake in play-calling. In the end, it goes back on quarterback Stephen Garcia.
One week removed from the best game of his career, Garcia, recognized as the SEC Offensive Player of the Week, continued a startling trend in the second half against Kentucky. With the exception being the game against Alabama, Garcia has struggled in the second half of games, after looking impressive in the first half.
Garcia, if he wants to truly be considered one of the top quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference, has to take that next step. When Marcus Lattimore went down with a left ankle injury, that should have been the time for Garcia to step up as a team leader, and put this team on his shoulders.
With the status of Lattimore unknown at this point, Garcia becomes the focal point of the offensive gameplan. It is his job to take hold of that.
Until he seizes the moment, becomes a consistent quarterback on a week-to-week basis, he will still feel the wrath of head coach Steve Spurrier. He will also feel talented freshman Connor Shaw breathing down his back.
There has never been a question about Garcia’s talent. There has always been a question about what is going on in his head. If the Gamecocks expect to contend for an SEC Championship, they will need to have the Stephen Garcia from the game against Alabama, not the Garcia that Gamecock fans have seen most of the last two seasons.