Tigers look to go after Garcia

Get to South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia early and you can fluster him for the rest of the game, like Vanderbilt did when it intercepted him four times last week, or Auburn did when it harried him into a hand-delivered pick-6 to T’Sharvan Bell in the SEC Championship Game last year.

Or so the story goes.

Tigers safeties coach Tommy Thigpen isn’t so sure the book on the Gamecocks’ senior quarterback is entirely accurate.

“He’s gone from one game when he’s thrown three or four interceptions, and it’s not uncommon for him the next week to throw for 400 yards,” Thigpen said. “You just don’t know which guy will show up. But the kid is a proven winner.”

The Tigers would like to turn up the heat on Garcia, who has three touchdowns against seven interceptions this year, early Saturday.

That way, they’ve got a better chance of getting the bad Garcia than the good one.

“He’s one of those guys that once he starts off hot, he’s one of the best in the SEC when he gets going,” Thigpen said. “We’re just going to try to keep everything in front of us and hopefully try to keep him from getting that hot hand.”

Auburn has had trouble keeping consistent heat on the pocket this year, recording only three sacks and 21 quarterback hurries through four games.

At this point last season, the Tigers had 10 sacks and 45 hurries.

Defensive line coach Mike Pelton said sack statistics are sometimes overrated. But pushing the pocket is not.

“Affecting that quarterback pocket, making that quarterback get rid of that ball, closing in and building a trap around a quarterback — those are the things we talk about,” Pelton said. “We have to do a better job of containing the quarterback, not letting him escape. Those are the things we talk about — along with getting sacks.”

Pelton’s looking for somebody to step up.

And he thinks he’s found his candidate.

Sophomore Corey Lemonier consistently displayed against Florida Atlantic a product he only showed flashes of last year, recording six solo tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack, along with “affecting” the pocket throughout the evening.

Head coach Gene Chizik said it was Lemonier’s best performance at Auburn.

“It was not even close,” Chizik said. “It’s the first time in four games I’ve seen him look the way he should look as a football player, as a defensive end at Auburn.”

Pelton said he’d yet to see his sophomore end utilize his talent in such a consistent and concentrated way before last Saturday.

“I don’t think Corey has a ceiling when it comes to his talent,” Pelton said. “It came at the right time with us going through this stretch. We’re going to need him at his best to have a chance to win up in Columbia. I was glad to see him put a full game together.”

South Carolina hasn’t had many issues getting to the passer this year, and the Gamecocks can reliably lean on one of three guys off the edge: 6-foot-2, 276-pound senior Melvin Ingram (3.0 TFL, two sacks), 6-7, 260-pound junior Devin Taylor (2.0 TFL, sack) and 6-6, 254-pound freshman phenom Jadeveon Clowney, who just so happens to lead the team with four sacks and 5.0 TFL.

Ingram is also tied for third on the team in scoring with 18 points, with two fumble returns for a touchdown and a 68-yard touchdown run against Georgia to his credit.

Now that’s an active front.

“They’re just really, really fast and athletic,” offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said. “When you look at those guys across the board, they can all run. You can tell that they’ve placed an emphasis on recruiting guys that are athletes and then teaching them how to be defensive linemen or linebackers.”

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