David Cloninger, GamecockCentral.com
Steve Spurrier threatened Stephen Garcia's king in the never-ending chess match with his quarterback, and Garcia responded by moving away from the threat.
In his fourth year as a Gamecock, Garcia isn't abdicating anything. But he is positioning himself in order to present a unified attack for the next time -- because there will surely be a next time.
At present, though, Garcia is working on what Spurrier has criticized. A day after Spurrier named Garcia as starting quarterback for No. 20 USC's next game, with the out of pulling the redshirt junior if he reverted to his old habits, Garcia discussed the situation.
"It's just a hard habit to get out of," Garcia said on Wednesday. "You see a bunch of big 260-pound guys coming at you, it's hard to just run with your face straight up. But I'm going to start getting on the ground. That's just what I've got to start doing."
Spurrier sounded very concerned after last week's loss at Auburn and again on Tuesday, talking about the danger Garcia puts himself in when he runs the ball. It's nothing strange to see Garcia lead with his head -- the first touchdown of the year was scored when Garcia met a Southern Miss defender helmet-first, bounced off the collision, spun and ran into the end zone -- and that's the problem.
The coach doesn't want to see his quarterback or any other player leading with his neck down. The teaching phrase is to hit only what you can see, and Garcia has constantly put his head down when he tucks the ball and begins to run, which leaves his neck exposed.
It's something he has done since before his high-school days, but it's nevertheless something Spurrier wants him to stop. While Garcia has taken cracks to the noggin several times with no permanent damage, he and Spurrier know it only takes one shot to the neck or spine and a life can be permanently changed, if not ended.
"He tells me he can play without doing that," Spurrier said on Tuesday. "He must do that or we're going to take him out to avoid injury to himself."
The ominous last sentence stuck with Garcia. He said he spent Tuesday and Wednesday trying to keep his chin tilted to the sky when running, although it was admittedly tough to do.
"That's why it's so hard to get rid of," he said. "Just any way of getting down on the ground. He doesn't want me to put my head down. I think it's going to be pretty hard for me to slide -- that's just not the kind of person I am."
Indeed. Some of Garcia's biggest highlights have been when he takes off running and sticks his head into a pileup seeking extra yards.
If Garcia goes out against Alabama next week and begins to light the sky up, he'll probably earn himself some leeway. If he is playing well, it doesn't seem like Spurrier would yank him in favor of a cold backup even if Garcia does slip up and put his head down on one keeper.
But that's in the future. Up until then is about taking the right approach on his runs and understanding when it's a good idea to risk some of those plays for which Garcia has become known.
That dive against Kentucky last year, to get a first down? If USC is facing third-and-1, fourth-and-1, that would be a good situation to try not to slide. If it's first-and-10, hit the ground feet-first.
And definitely work on holding onto the ball. Perhaps the film review, looking at exactly how Garcia was hit and twice lost the ball at Auburn, led to Spurrier's increased emphasis on running the proper way.
"He actually played three quarters pretty well and then, obviously, the two fumbles were really bad plays," Spurrier said. "Now, can he stop fumbling?"
That would be a key to staying in the starting role. Along with this new responsibility.
"Getting the ball out of my hands, out of bounds, to a receiver, and getting down on the ground," Garcia said, ticking off his chores. "That's pretty much what I've been focusing on right now. But that's what happening, but I can't fumble twice. I've just got to play better and play smarter."