As the Gamecocks took the field against the East Carolina Pirates at 7:00 PM on Saturday, I don't think any of us had any concept of the violent movements along the spectrum of human emotion that we were about to endure over the next three and a half hours. As I'm sure you know (but I feel obligated to repeat), South Carolina shot itself in the foot with a fully automatic weapon and just kept firing away at the damn thing (via 4 fumbles, all lost) until apparently deciding that being down 17-0 was about enough and that maybe it was time for the grownups to play some football. The Gamecocks outscored the Pirates 56-20 from that point forward en route to a 56-37 victory, a final score that makes the offense and defense look better and worse, respectively, than they actually were.
Of course, the tantalizing subplot of the game centered around the often-maligned, now-beloved Stephen Garcia taking over for the once-revered, now-reviled Connor Shaw in the second quarter (as planned). From there, Garcia engineered a comeback from a three score deficit, transformed an utter disaster of a first quarter into a comfortable victory, and reclaimed the starting quarterback position by removing Excalibur from the stone with relative ease where Connor Shaw yanked and pulled in futility. (Actually, I'm sure that's exactly how Garcia remembers it as he lounges in his Whaley's Mill apartment, admiring his sword collection while sipping an ice cold Natty Light.)
Yet as stark as the contrast was between USC's success before and after Garcia's entrance to the game, his performance was not that much better than Shaw's.
Garcia completed 7 passes on 15 attempts for 110 yards with one touchdown through the air while adding 56 yards on five carries and two touchdowns with his legs. Shaw threw nine passes, completing three for a total of 21 yards while running for 26 yards on seven carries. Neither were particularly impressive in the passing game. Both had a pass that was nearly intercepted. Garcia seemed to move better in the pocket on the rare occasion that ECU was able to penetrate the offensive line (who were brilliant in pass protection, it should be said), but Connor Shaw had a much better feel for the deep ball. If either of those throws to Alshon Jeffery or Jason Barnes had connected (and they nearly did) we might be having a much different conversation right now. Garcia's throws of 20 yards or more, on the other hand, were routinely five to ten yards off the mark.
The main difference between the two QBs had to do which team happened to be fumbling the ball with reckless abandon while they were at the helm.
Given that the average fumble has an equal chance of being recovered by either team, the Gamecocks were extremely unlucky to lose 100% of the balls they put on the turf in the first half. Fortunately, the mighty Luck Dragon had mercy on the Gamecocks, granting them 4 recovered ECU fumbles of their own. Unfortunately for Connor Shaw, he was manning the QB spot for 3 of the 4 fumbles the Gamecocks lost but none of the 4 fumbles that they recovered.* Of course, I'm sure someone will try to tell you that Stephen Garcia's experience and leadership caused Shaq Wilson (1) , Antonio Allen (2), and Reggie Bowens (1) to recover those fumbles, but that doesn't mean you have to believe them.
In any case, the capricious whims of the all-powerful Luck Dragon seem to have effectively ended this debate, as Coach Spurrier has named Stephen Garcia the starter for the Georgia game and seems committed to the fifth-year senior as his QB1 of the foreseeable future. And it's hard to disagree with the decision. I still think Shaw deserves an extended look as the season progresses, but when you have two quarterbacks who are pretty much equal, I do think you go with the guy who has more experience - especially when your next game is in Athens.
Garcia definitely gave the team an emotional spark off the bench, but I also think that much of his impact on the game has been overstated. Being lucky is not a skill. No amount of "big game experience" will put you in the good graces of the Luck Dragon. However, if I were to set odds on which of the two quarterbacks is most likely to have an altar to the Luck Dragon at which he makes ritual animal sacrifices before each game, I'm making Garcia the runaway favorite.
*Admittedly, Connor Shaw did not help his case by committing one of those fumbles.