TAMPA — If Stephen Garcia can cull any consolation from his abysmal, abbreviated Outback Bowl effort, it's this: The latest adversity he has created for himself at least is of the on-field variety.
His phase of malfeasance (three arrests in 13 months) apparently behind him, the ex-Jefferson High star hoped to establish himself as South Carolina's quarterback of the future before a legion of friends and relatives.
But the only thing established in Thursday's 31-10 loss to Iowa was yet another Steve Spurrier quarterback controversy. Garcia, a redshirt freshman who turned the ball over on his first four possessions, was yanked by his coach at halftime in favor of sophomore Chris Smelley.
"Losing a bowl game in general is pretty frustrating, but especially here in front of my hometown and family, it just adds on," Garcia, chewing fluorescent-blue bubble gum, said after the game.
"I don't think I was any more nervous than I was any other game. I just saw it as another game. My adrenaline was a lot higher than it's ever been. I wish I could play it all over again. It just wasn't meant to be."
Against an defense that rarely digressed from its 4-3, Cover 2 base scheme, Garcia (9-for-18, 79 yards, three INTs) never found his touch or rhythm.
His first pick — on his first throw — was intended for tight end Weslye Saunders, but Garcia threw it well before Saunders broke, directly into the hands of strong safety Tyler Sash. On the next drive, Garcia fumbled on a 4-yard keeper up the middle.
On the third series, Garcia was picked in the end zone by Bradley Fletcher, who was in man coverage on a long sideline route to Jason Barnes.
"We knew that he kind of liked to lock down on his receivers," said Sash, who also intercepted Garcia late in the second quarter to tie an Iowa record for picks in a bowl game. "He would stare them down, so a lot of it was just reading the quarterback's eyes."
And so the stage that had been set for Garcia — glorious hometown return in a prominent New Year's Day game — was summarily disassembled. This week, Garcia's father said he anticipated no fewer than 100 family members and friends to attend.
By game's end, Garcia was talking about "laying low" Thursday night with his girlfriend and 14-month-old son, and Spurrier was addressing a spring quarterback competition with Garcia, Smelley (16-for-31, 179 yards, one TD Thursday) and perhaps others.
"Stephen certainly has a long way to go as far as making decisions and knowing where everyone is and so forth," Spurrier said. "We'll just have to let (the competition) play out."
Joey Knight can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3350.