COLUMBIA -- As ubiquitous as Stephen Garcia has been on the South Carolina sports map the past 20 months, it's easy to forget the Gamecocks quarterback has made one career start.
But USC coach Steve Spurrier is reminded of Garcia's youth and inexperience each time he has popped in tape of the LSU game.
Garcia was sacked six times by the defending national champions, at least four of which could have been avoided, according to Spurrier. As a blue-chip recruit in Tampa, Fla., Garcia rode his strong right arm and quick feet to a No. 4 ranking in Rivals.com's list of dual-threat quarterback prospects.
But to borrow a sentiment from "The Wizard of Oz," Garcia is not at Jefferson High anymore.
"I think in high school, he'd look down the field, (and) if he didn't throw it he'd say, 'Well, I'll take off running,'" Spurrier said Tuesday. "He's going to break that habit. ... Every now and then, it's fine when you have an opening. But when there's no openings there, you just can't start running around. You've got to throw it away or find somebody. You can't just go down with it for an 8-yard sack."
Learning when to hold it (and scramble) and when to fold it (throw it away) is part of the maturation process for Garcia, a redshirt freshman whose development was stalled by suspensions each of his first two springs.
Spurrier has appeared torn between giving Garcia on-the-job training and living with the mistakes and having him split time with redshirt sophomore Chris Smelley. After saying last week Garcia might be best suited coming off the bench, Spurrier announced Tuesday that Garcia would make his second start Saturday against Tennessee.
"If he struggles and has a lot of problems, Chris Smelley may go in. We'll just have to see how it goes," Spurrier said. "Give Stephen every opportunity, if he seems to know what he's doing in there, making good decisions. But Chris is very capable of playing, also."
Garcia has played in four games, although his first appearance was a three-play cameo against Georgia. A month later, the 6-foot-2, 221-pound Garcia replaced Smelley at Kentucky and led a fourth-quarter rally in a 24-17 win.
Garcia completed 10 of 14 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown against the Wildcats -- a performance that earned him freshman-of-the-week honors in the SEC and the start against LSU.
Spurrier does not want Garcia to shelve his scrambling ability, but he would like the right-hander to go through his route progressions before he tucks it and runs.
"Certainly, the ability to dodge people is very helpful. Stephen can do that, and he can break some arm tackles getting free," Spurrier said. "We're not discouraging him from running occasionally. We're just trying to encourage him to get rid of the ball at times and don't take those sacks."
Garcia's ability to recognize blitzes and plays where a throwaway is the best option will come with experience, according to Spurrier. The coach pointed to Alabama's John Parker Wilson as an example of a quarterback who has learned how to eliminate, or at least reduce, "those bad plays, those sacks."
Spurrier is not the only coach dealing with learning-curve issues inherent in young quarterbacks. LSU's Jarrett Lee, who attended the Elite 11 quarterback camp with Garcia in 2006, threw three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, in the Tigers' 52-38 loss to Georgia on Saturday.
LSU coach Les Miles told reporters his staff would limit the offense to put Lee more at ease under center.
"When he's playing and comfortable, he's pretty talented," Miles said.
USC coaches think the same of Garcia, who has completed 60.7 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Garcia's pass efficiency rating of 141.25 would rank third among SEC quarterbacks if he had enough attempts to qualify.
The top two passers on the list: Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and three-year starter Matthew Stafford.
"Hopefully, in time (Garcia) will have much more awareness of what's going on and what he needs to do," Spurrier said. "We try to give him a plan on each play, but sometimes he reverts back to his old habits, which is human nature. A lot of us do at times."
Whether Spurrier will be patient enough to allow Garcia to break those habits remains to be seen.