If Steve Spurrier was serious about potentially making Connor Shaw his starting quarterback for the season, the start to Saturday night's game against East Carolina should permanently bury that idea. Shaw looked shaken and stirred as ECU stormed out to a 17-0 lead on a Top 15 team. He was 2-for-8 for 18 yards. He fumbled the ball as the team committed three turnovers before normal starter Stephen Garcia took the field. The Gamecocks were getting destroyed by a Conference USA team.
Then, as Spurrier had promised when he made the Shaw decision, Stephen Garcia took the field for the Gamecocks' first series of the second quarter. The difference was night and day. South Carolina would turn the ball over just once more the entire game. The defense tightened up. Garcia's passing numbers weren't stellar -- 7-of-15 for 110 yards and a touchdown -- but his five carries for 56 yards and two touchdowns and the better all-around play of the team more than made up for the difference.
It's hard to trace all of those improvements back to Garcia. Maybe the defense needed a wake-up call in the form of falling behind by 17 points. Perhaps the special-teams unit just had first-night jitters. And a well-timed implosion by ECU early in the second half helped the Gamecocks take the lead. But it looked to the outside observer that South Carolina's entire team was more confident with their normal starter on the field.
Oh, and it's hard to ignore the 56-20 score from when Garcia took over to the end of the game.
The other offensive stars also got their numbers. Marcus Lattimore ran over, around and through ECU defenders for 112 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries. Alshon Jeffery grabbed five balls for 92 yards. And defensive uber-recruit Jadeveon Clowney was a force to be reckoned with along the defensive line.
And all of the angst among Gamecock fans in the first quarter will be water under the bridge if South Carolina plays in Athens next weekend like it played in the last three quarters of the game in Charlotte. (Especially if the early-game efforts of the Dawgs against Boise State are any indication of the best that team has to offer.) After all, the showdown with Georgia is the far more important game in the SEC East standings.
But if the Gamecocks truly want to win that game and the others it needs to win later in the season, whatever genuine quarterback controversy that existed in Columbia is over. Stephen Garcia won the job, and the game, when it mattered most.