University of Alabama

Alabama football: One quarterback or two, Crimson Tide sure to face passing threat from South Carolina Gamecocks

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Steve Spurrier has a reputation for cranking out quality passers.

On occasion, he even will develop two at a time.

Though his 2010 South Carolina team has a defined starter in the long-embattled Stephen Garcia, Spurrier isn’t afraid to use up-and-comer Conner Shaw in a pinch. No, it’s not a true two-quarterback system like he occasionally tossed into the game plan at Florida in the 1990s, but the threat of a change forces extra time spent preparing for a different look.

“It can work,” Spurrier said of the two-quarterback offense. “It usually doesn’t work for a long time, though. It’s usually one of those quick-fix things. We all love to have a No. 1 quarterback who is clearly your best one. That’s what we shoot for, but if you have two that are very similar in ability, then I don’t think there’s anything wrong with playing both of them.”

In his third year starting in Columbia, Garcia has been more effective as a passer heading into the 3:30 p.m. Saturday visit from top-ranked Alabama. His completion percentage of 69.1 percent is nearly 15 points higher than his average during the first two seasons spent behind center. Overall, Garcia has thrown for 743 yards on 56-for-81 passing for five touchdowns and two interceptions. A year ago, he threw 10 interceptions compared to 17 touchdowns as the South Carolina offense never matched its stout defense.

Spurrier never shied away from his disappointment in Garcia when merited. By Wednesday, he offered a lukewarm assessment of his starter.

“He’s played pretty well except for his fumbles,” Spurrier said. “We’ve emphasized as much as we possibly can to hold onto the ball and when he’s about to get tackled to get down. Hopefully, he can start doing that.”

Garcia’s failure to avoid turnovers against Auburn led to earning a seat on the bench, and Shaw got his opportunity. The true freshman proceeded to throw a game-ending interception in the end zone in the closing moments to hand the Gamecocks their first loss of the season, 35-27 heading into last week’s bye.

Alabama coach Nick Saban, who briefly used two quarterbacks in his final season at LSU, is not eager to give it another go.

“I’m kind of a continuity guy, so you keep continuity with the team and the leadership and all that,” Saban said. “If you have a guy that’s playing well, you just like to see him continue to play well. I think all the other players, when you do change guys, they get used to that too, so that doesn’t affect them. I’m sure it doesn’t affect (South Carolina) because they play extremely well regardless of who’s been in there.”

Having some big targets also helps.

Alshon Jefferey (6-foot-4, 233 pounds) is the SEC’s leading receiver with 124.5 yards per game. Lining up on the opposite side of the line is Tori Gurley, a 6-5, 230-pounder who has the second-highest receiving total on the team.

Saban called South Carolina the opponent posing the greatest threat of a downfield passing attack, so the Tide certainly isn’t undervaluing the Gamecocks’ aerial potential.

“They did it last year; they tried last year to throw several passes down the field against us, and I’m sure we’re going to be challenged, as much or more,” Saban said.