(2-3, 0-3 SEC)
<b>NO. 25 SOUTH CAROLINA 7 7 7 7 -- 28 </b>
(5-1, 2-1 SEC)
COLUMBIA --- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is finally seeing the player he expected in Stephen Garcia.
The sophomore quarterback threw for three touchdowns, rushed for another and helped to clinch the win when he hurdled a Kentucky defender for a first down in the final minutes of the 25th-ranked Gamecocks' 28-26 victory Saturday.
"That was a big-time play," Spurrier said of Garcia's leap, "and sort of shows what he's capable of doing."
The play finally put away a pesky Kentucky team that lost to No. 1 Florida and No. 3 Alabama the past two weeks.
The Wildcats moved the ball well on South Carolina's third-rated SEC defense and led 17-14 at the half. But Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline left with a knee sprain early in the third quarter.
"This is a game I felt we had a real shot at winning, but we came up short," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said.
Brooks was unsure how long Hartline might be out.
The Wildcats had a chance in the final five minutes after Randall Cobb's 2-yard TD run made it 28-26. But defensive end Cliff Matthews knocked down a potential tying two-point conversion pass and South Carolina ran out the clock.
"That was a fun ballgame," Spurrier, who improved to 17-0 against Kentucky (2-3, 0-3) in his career, said.
And it sets up something even bigger for South Carolina (5-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference), which travels to face No. 3 Alabama on Saturday.
Does South Carolina have something for the Crimson Tide?
"We'll talk about that Monday," safety Chris Culliver said.
Garcia came to campus in January 2007 with South Carolina fans eager for Spurrier to win as big as he did at Florida. But Garcia had three run-ins with the law his first 15 months and was suspended for about all of his first two spring practices.
Spurrier had all but lost patience with his prospect. But that changed this off-season when Spurrier brought in one of his ex-Gators quarterbacks, G.A. Mangus, as an assistant to work with Garcia.
So far, it's been working. Garcia has cut down on his mistakes and grown in leadership. He had TD throws of 10, 28 and 22 yards to freshman Alshon Jeffery, then jumped over from the 1-yard line to score what proved to be the decisive touchdown.
"(Spurrier) strives for perfection. He really demands that you be perfect," Garcia said. "It's going to be tough, but I feel like I'm getting there."
MARY ANN CHASTAIN/ASSOCIATED PRESS
<b>South Carolina QB Stephen Garcia celebrates with fans after Saturday's win. Garcia threw three TD passes and ran for a score. </b>[CAPTION]</p>
<p><b>Kentucky quarterback Will Fidler picks up a first down before getting wrapped up by South Carolina's Collins Ukwu. Fidler replaced Mike Hartline, who left the game with a knee sprain. </b>