COLUMBIA --- Stephen Garcia finished 13-for-20 passing for 131 yards and ran for 86 more in the first significant action of his career, giving South Carolina's offense enough of a kick to beat Alabama-Birmingham 26-13 on Saturday night.
Garcia, a heralded recruit who has had a hard time staying out of trouble off the field during his two years at South Carolina, came in on the second possession for the Gamecocks (3-2). Over the next five first-half possessions, the redshirt freshman accounted for all but six of the Gamecocks' yards and either passed the ball or ran it on 26 of the next 32 plays.
South Carolina's defense took care of the rest, holding the Blazers (1-4) to 207 yards and forcing three turnovers, as the Gamecocks won back-to-back games for the first time since starting 6-1 last season.
Bobby Wallace ran six times for 51 yards, and Jason Barnes led the eight Gamecocks who caught a pass with three receptions for 46 yards.
Joe Webb was 17-for-26 for 140 yards and two interceptions for Alabama-Birmingham.
Even with Garcia's lift, the South Carolina offense still sputtered at times. Ryan Succop made all four of his field goals, a career best, and the Gamecocks scored 17 fewer points than the Blazers were giving up to fellow Football Bowl Subdivision foes coming into the game. They gained 353 yards, well below the 568 yards Alabama-Birmingham had been allowing major college teams.
Garcia's biggest contribution to the offense is his mobility. Coach Steve Spurrier's prized 2007 recruit had 67 yards on 14 carries in the first half, much of them coming on scrambles when he couldn't find anyone open. His 6-yard touchdown run put South Carolina up 17-3 in the second quarter, and he added a 13-yard TD on a swing pass to running back Brian Maddox.
Garcia even had a little luck. His first two deep passes were poorly thrown, but the Blazers were called for pass interference on the first one and an interception was nullified by an offside penalty on the second. After that, Spurrier rarely let the freshman throw more than 15 yards downfield. Garcia threw a pick in the third quarter on a badly thrown long ball on third-and-11, and Spurrier alternated starter Chris Smelley and third-string Tommy Beecher to finish the game.
South Carolina's defense played up to its top-10 national ranking. The Blazers had just 26 yards midway through the second quarter and didn't get a first down until 6:39 remained in the first half.