College Sports

Garcia, Beecher, Smelley look good in scrimmage

The Gamecocks football team runs through their first scrimmage of the fall season with their second line players for the fans. Freshman quarterback Stephen Garcia talks with sophomore quarterback Tommy Beecher before practice.
The Gamecocks football team runs through their first scrimmage of the fall season with their second line players for the fans. Freshman quarterback Stephen Garcia talks with sophomore quarterback Tommy Beecher before practice.

COLUMBIA -- The applause rang from the stands at Williams-Brice Stadium as the yellow jersey stamped with a black "5" took its place in the huddle. It doubled when the quarterback took the snap on fourth-and-goal from the 6-yard line, pumped once and faded a high spiral to tight end Jared Cook for a touchdown.

Yes, Stephen Garcia can throw, just in case there were any out there who thought all he was good for was getting his name in the police report.

"It was a great route, a good call at the goal line and it was a fun day," Garcia said, drenched after an afternoon in the Columbia mugginess at South Carolina's first scrimmage. "Nice and hot."

And the applause?

"I thought that was pretty cool," he said. "It's nice to see the support I got from the fans. I'm glad to be here."

Garcia highlighted the hour-long scrimmage, capping the first week of practice in front of an estimated crowd of 6,000. A record-breaking Midlands heat wave was broken just before with a 10-minute rain shower, which put a little more spring in the Gamecocks' steps.

Coach Steve Spurrier had already announced the session would be mostly for his backups and seldom-used players, which might explain why the young offensive line was bullied and there were a few wincing expressions in the stands. But when the main goal was to break up the practice routine and stay injury-free, it's not necessary to be game-ready.

"We all got a ways to go," Spurrier said. "Just a matter of playing a lot."

Garcia split time with backup quarterbacks Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher while starter Blake Mitchell stood on the sidelines. Each threw a touchdown and none was intercepted, but each also had a few plays where the receiver fell down or they bumped heads on the handoff or the line disintegrated, causing a defensive slap on the chest and an automatic whistle.

Smelley began the day with a 13-yard scoring toss to Moe Brown after he and Beecher drove the offense 70 yards. Garcia checked in two series later.

His first play was a fake handoff keeper, where he ran 4 yards and hurdled a defender at the end. That was apparently enough for the day, as the freshman was mostly kept in the pocket afterward.

He had the session's second-longest play, a 23-yard strike down the right sideline to fellow freshman Weslye Saunders. The big tight end also caught a 13-yard pass from Garcia and impressed with his quickness, unusual for an 18-year-old listed at 6-foot-5 and 283 pounds.

"The tight ends are part of our offense," Spurrier said with a shrug.

After Garcia and Smelley each threw a TD, Beecher took over. He had the day's most memorable play, hurling a 43-yard bomb toward the end zone, hoping to find freshman speedster Chris Culliver.

Culliver was there, but the ball was underthrown. Free safety Mike Newton leaped to intercept, but had the ball bounce off his pads and into Culliver's arms for the touchdown.

"What I was supposed to do was kind of run a post route, but the way the defender was playing, I tried to keep it as a skinny hash route," said Culliver, who ran a 4.28 in the 40-yard dash during a recent practice. "The quarterback probably didn't see that, but I was just glad I made the play."

Culliver mentioned Spurrier had told him to slow down his routes because he was getting to his spot too fast for the QBs to adjust, but also said he was learning quickly. The point of the scrimmage was to cut it loose a little bit, and Culliver at least gave the fans something to talk about on the way home. "I'm going to try to work my way into the depth chart as best as I can," he said. "I just tried to treat it as a normal practice."

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