COLUMBIA — Those who have been wondering when Steve Spurrier would bring a quality quarterback to South Carolina can quit wondering. He's here.

Stephen Garcia had a break-out game here Saturday night against Louisiana State in his first official start as quarterback for the Gamecocks.

The redshirt freshman from Tampa, who made headlines for his scrapes with the law during his first year at the university, seems destined to make bigger news as a player.

Even in a disappointing 24-17 loss to the 13th-ranked Tigers from Baton Rouge, Garcia had an impressive outing, hitting 14 of 26 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown.

Yes, he fumbled once, threw an interception near the end of the game that killed a comeback drive and was sacked six times. And, to be sure, most of his heroics came in the first half.

But compared to Gamecock quarterbacks of the past, this kid showed signs of having what Spurrier has been looking for since he took over this program four years ago.

For football aficionados, he is fleet afoot and has the accuracy of an archer when he flings the ball downfield.

But for those who understand intangibles, he has that special blend of swagger and sensibility that earns a quarterback the respect of his teammates in the huddle.

It's that unspoken feeling between players that says, we're going to win, even if we don't.

Future shock

The Gamecocks didn't win this game. But they looked better losing than they have in quite a while.

LSU shook off a befuddling first-half performance, regrouped in the second stanza and put the Gamecocks away with a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that gave the Tigers the lead and silenced a crowd of 82,477 who filled Williams-Brice Stadium on this cool October night.

They came to see the Gamecocks upset the defending national champions, but settled for a glimpse of what the future might be like with this promising quarterback at the helm.

"We started a freshman quarterback, his first game ever, probably not a good idea," Spurrier said after the loss. "It's all learning for him. He carried the offense pretty well in the first half. It wasn't a good idea to ask to carry the load. It was a lot to ask of him, probably."

Gamecock fans, no doubt, were more pleased with Garcia's performance than was his Heisman Trophy winning coach. Spurrier is still extremely frustrated with his team's inability to run the ball, netting a mere 39 yards on the ground.

"We tried to throw way too much," Spurrier said. "Not very successfully."

Join the fun

Those who have been following Gamecock football for ages, however, will recognize this as perhaps the most promising night in this stadium since Todd Ellis quarterbacked USC back in 1980s.

For far too long, USC fans have watched a long lineup of hopefuls come in and out of the program without delivering on the high hopes and promises that always follow the latest quarterback sensation.

I won't name names because they are still around and they are nice people. Suffice it to say it's been decades since someone with Garcia's overall talent and potential has been on the field in a Gamecock uniform.

Just watching him play Saturday night against LSU was enough to convince even the most cynical critics that this kid has the ability, agility and attitude to make a big difference in whether the Spurrier Era is the answer to a century-long search for success.

With quick feet and a laser-like passing arm, Garcia is the kind of quarterback that can not only win games for USC, but attract other recruits of his caliber to join in the fun.

Reach Ken Burger at kburger@postandcourier.com or (843) 937-5598.