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Carolina prepares for Cats, run to defend Eastern title

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Steve Spurrier hopes he's finally got the
pieces of South Carolina's championship puzzle in place.
The defending SEC Eastern Division champs were supposed to have little trouble on their way back to the league title game - and
maybe even take the next step.
But the 18th-ranked Gamecocks (4-1, 2-1 SEC) have struggled the
first month, especially on offense where their lack of production
was painfully obvious in a 16-13 loss last week to an Auburn
defense that came in as the worst in the conference.
Spurrier felt he had no choice but to swap out fifth-year senior
quarterback Stephen Garcia for little-used sophomore Connor Shaw
when South Carolina takes on Kentucky (2-3, 0-2) on Saturday at
Williams-Brice Stadium.
"Stephen is trying as hard as he can and it just hasn't worked
out for him," Spurrier said. "And the other guy, Connor, now is
going to get his chance, and that's about all I need to say about
that."
Shaw had a chance earlier this season, starting South Carolina's
opener with East Carolina and lasting only a quarter as the Pirates
took a 17-0 lead. Garcia entered in the second quarter and
immediately sparked the Gamecocks' offense, the team eventually
rallying to a 56-37 win. Garcia had started the past four games,
giving him 34 in his career under Spurrier.
But South Carolina's head ball coach couldn't stomach another
performance like last Saturday, especially when a just another play
or two might've meant victory. Garcia was 9 of 23 for 160 yards and
two interceptions. Throw out a 50-yard TD toss to Alshon Jeffery
and Garcia's numbers plummet.
Shaw was a highly regarded recruit out of Flowery Branch, Ga., a
coach's son whose older brother, Jaybo, played at Georgia Tech
before moving on to Georgia Southern.
"I think I'm ready to play. I'm excited and we'll see how it
goes this Saturday," Shaw said.
Shaw won't face Spurrier's notoriously quick hook, the coach
swears, unless he's injured. Spurrier said Garcia has handled the
demotion well and would be ready if called on.
The Gamecocks pledge to have Shaw's back the same way they
supported Garcia.
"We believe in anybody coach Spurrier puts back there,"
offensive lineman Terrence Campbell said. "Apparently, coach
Spurrier put him back there because he has faith in him. If he has
faith in him, then the whole team is going to rally behind him."
If Shaw works out, it could be just what the Gamecocks - and
Jeffery - need. Garcia has been off target all season, his
completion percentage dropping from 64 last year to 51 so far in
2011. Jeffery, who set school records with 88 catches and 1,517
yards last season, has not come close to that production this
season, often watching balls fly over his head or never get out to
him. He has just 19 catches for 332 yards and two touchdowns this
season.
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips doesn't expect much to change in
Spurrier's offense with Shaw instead of Garcia. Spurrier will
continue to attack downfield, Phillips said, and go to the SEC's
rushing leader Marcus Lattimore.
"You could go in there and hand it off to (Lattimore) and still
have success," Phillips said.
The Gamecocks are third in the conference in rushing yards (197
per game) and are scoring nearly 32 points a game, both levels
Phillips would love to have. The Wildcats are averaging 116 yards
on the ground and scoring just 15 points a game.
"I don't know what shaking up needs to be done (at South
Carolina) when you're putting up the numbers that they're putting
up offensively," Phillips said.
Lattimore has 677 yards, second nationally to Pittsburgh runner
Ray Graham's 724 yards. But Lattimore was held to season lows with
66 yards and 17 carries in the Auburn loss.
The Gamecocks could be without defensive playmaker Melvin
Ingram, an end who had not practiced this week because of a left
foot injury. Ingram was named the SEC defensive player of the week
for the past two weeks. "You see Ingram all over the place,"
Phillips said.
The Wildcats ended Spurrier's 17-0 mark against them with last
year's 31-28 victory. Then Kentucky had standouts like quarterback
Mike Hartline and do-it-all weapon Randall Cobb. This time, it's
the Gamecocks who have the game-changers, particularly Lattimore.
Spurrier called on Lattimore to control tempo, wear down
opponents and win the game as the passing game faltered. The coach
couldn't afford another late loss in which another completed pass
or two might've meant victory.
"We feel like Connor deserves a shot and see if he can perform
at a higher level and get our offense going a bit," Spurrier said.
"So that's where we are on offense."

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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