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Five Goals for the Off-Season: Four, Improved QB Play

This post continues a series on issues confronting the 2011 Gamecocks. Again, these are in no particular order.

There's probably no more divisive current topic among Gamecocks fans than Stephen Garcia. For some, Garcia is a star. For others, he's a chump. As usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

There's an old saying in football that "the numbers don't lie." In Garcia's case, the numbers look pretty good. Garcia threw for a 148 PR, over 3000 yards, 20 TDs, and 14 INTs this year. The INT numbers aren't good, but the rest put him among the better QBs in the country. For most of the year, his numbers were even more impressive before topping off a bit over the final few games.

However, Garcia's numbers hide the fact that he often leaves a lot of plays on the field. He's not an accurate downfield passer and often undermines potential big plays. He doesn't go through his progressions well, often seeming to lock in on a particular receiver (usually Alshon Jeffery) over the course of a game; I really can't begin to fathom the number of times this year that he missed on a bomb when he could have gotten a sure five-to-eight yards on a dump-off. Finally, he doesn't make good reads in the read-option game.

My take on Garcia is that he is an inconsistent QB who ends up appearing a bit better than he is because we have a talented receiving corps. Garcia has some good and even great days. His performance against Alabama is a case in point; outside the weird safety, he played as well as a QB can play that day. He dealt with pressure, made some nice runs, and put every throw exactly where it needed to be. If his range was that kind of performance to an average one where he's a bit off and throws a pick or two, things wouldn't be that bad. Garcia continues, though, to have games where he's a complete liability, which is what happened in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. If Garcia doesn't throw a couple of those picks and hits one of the deep balls, neither of which is an unrealistic expectation, we probably win a close one against the 'Noles. Instead, we lost by 9 and very well could have lost by a lot more if not for a gritty defensive performance.

If that's the Garcia we're going to get again next year, we're going to struggle to break the ten-win plane and / or win the SEC. Even with a talented RB like Marcus Lattimore, Steve Spurrier is going to want to throw the ball sometimes, and with a QB like Garcia was this year, we're always going to be the team that can beat Alabama one week and lose to Kentucky the next. That's not good enough for this program's aspirations.

Continue reading after the jump.

Can Garcia improve? History would say no, or at least not dramatically. It's unusual for a QB at Garcia's stage in his career to suddenly remedy problems that have plagued him for years. Garcia's accuracy has always been an issue, and I doubt he develops whatever it is that distinguishes guys like him from the Peyton Manning's of the world over the off-season. Decision-making is a different story; Garcia has made some progress in this area over the years. Unfortunately, evidence of that progress has been unevenly distributed over the course of the season, and it's often been MIA when Lattimore has left games. Garcia must commit to being a better game manager for the long haul if he wants to become a better QB; this happening will also have to include Spurrier firmly committing to us being a run-first team. Clearly, all of this will need to include Garcia exerting himself more strongly over the off-season than he did last time around.

Our other option at QB, of course, is Connor Shaw. I'm a little surprised that Shaw didn't receive more snaps this season after all the off-season chatter; it makes you wonder if Spurrier never really thought as highly of him as it seemed. Still, Spurrier clearly sees something there, and with another year under his belt, the hard-working Shaw may be ready to take his game to the next level. It's very common for QBs to make large jumps between their freshman and sophomore seasons as they acclimate to the college game and learn the play book.

Yet that surely won't be enough to challenge a senior Garcia, right? Not so fast, my friend. Although I think Garcia is a serviceable QB, he's not an elite one, and barring the improbable, he never will be. Shaw isn't perfect, either, but he has the potential to improve and perhaps surpass Garcia. He could easily be playing at Garcia's level by next season if Garcia doesn't push himself to improve. Don't be surprised if there is a QB competition in the works. We need our best play possible at QB to take the next step, and that means playing the best guy available.