South Carolina is having a nice season so far.
The Gamecocks are one of the favorites to win the SEC East and their 3-0 start is good enough to be ranked by the Associated Press as the seventh-best team in the country. They are No. 8 in the USA Today and Lindy’s polls. That is the good news.
Running back Marcus Lattimore is being talked about as a Heisman Trophy candidate despite a relatively slow start stat-wise, and quarterback Connor Shaw is one of the top quarterbacks returning in the SEC this season. All of this is a good thing for South Carolina.
The bad news, however, is that Shaw aggravated a shoulder injury last weekend against UAB and Dylan Thompson had to come off the bench again. And again, Thompson performed well, throwing for 177 yards and two touchdowns.
The question now is: will Shaw be healthy enough to last the full game especially with Missouri coming to Columbia this weekend? Steve Spurrier believes he will be.
“Connor (Shaw) threw the ball around well last night. He’ll start. He’s fine,” he said. “If there’s a place for Dylan (Thompson) to come in and help us beat Missouri, we’ll certainly consider that. No issue on who the starter is this week.”
Shaw was injured when he took a hard hit after throwing a pass, but he puts himself in harm’s way because he runs the football often, which is one of the stronger and most vital aspects of his game.
“Last week we didn’t anticipate him running a lot. We probably should have,” Spurrier said. “At times we didn’t run block very well. Maybe they just had a good stunt on that. The run wasn’t very good. There’s no question that running with the ball is what Connor does, which makes him a good quarterback. If he plays, he’ll run some. If he can’t run, I don’t’ think he’s quite as effective. We believe he’ll be able to run some.”
Shaw is the Gamecocks’ third-leading rusher with 86 yards on 16 carries, for an average of 4.5 yards per carry, and Spurrier appreciates his toughness despite the lingering shoulder injury situation.
“You have to be pretty tough physically and mentally to play quarterback anywhere nowadays. I’ve always said courage is the most important quality a really good quarterback must have,” the coach said. “The throw Connor (Shaw) made the other night against UAB, the strong safety came. We screwed up the protection … we should have blocked that guy. We had the protection called to block it but we didn’t execute, which is bad coaching. Anyway, Connor stood and threw it, got hit hard and was out the game. That’s what quarterbacks have to do. They have to stand and throw the ball.”
Shaw’s shoulder will likely be vulnerable the rest of the season, but Spurrier doesn’t believe that will put a target on his QB.
“I don’t think there are any dirty teams out there like there used to be some days back,” he said. “I think most coaches know it’s a physical game and there’s going to be some hitting, but they all do it the clean way. We all try to. You hope there are no injuries to either team. I would say almost every college team in the country has a team chaplain. Our prayer before the game is there are no injuries to either team.”
In the meantime, if Shaw is injured, Thompson has proven capable of stepping right in without South Carolina’s offense skipping a beat. The 6-foot-3, 212-pound redshirt sophomore is 26 of 50 passing for 507 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions.
“Dylan has dropped it in there very nicely. That throw to Bruce (Ellington) we were telling Bruce you weren’t open very much at all. That was a perfect throw no question about that. The one to Damiere (Byrd) was real good too,” Spurrier said.
“Connor is a better passer than he’s shown. He sometimes holds the ball too long. He was a little deliberate a few nights ago. Tentative was the word I used after the game. Hopefully he can get out of that. He needs to take his steps and fire it in there a few times.”
The combination of Shaw and Thompson gives South Carolina a nice situation at quarterback. If Shaw, who is the starter, goes down, then Thompson is ready to come off the bench. They are teammates, who compete for playing time, but they support each other in everything they do, and the South Carolina coach appreciates their attitudes.
“They’re such good friends and such good teammates. They’re both whatever is best for the team,” Spurrier said. “I hope Connor feels, ‘Hey Dylan can play. If I’m not doing very well or hurting a bit, we know Dylan can help us win the game.’ Hopefully both of them feel pretty good about each other and it makes our team stronger that we have two quarterbacks that can play. We may need both of them as we go through the season. Arkansas is on their second guy, Missouri played their second guy last week.”
Missouri will come into the game with quarterback issues of its own. Starter James Franklin did not play because of an elbow injury against Arizona State, but Corbin Berkstresser stepped in and directed the Tigers to the win.
“Missouri is a good team. They’ve been a good team for many years,” Spurrier said. “They’ve been playing football for over 100 years just like we have here at South Carolina. It’s something new for them joining the SEC. This is their second conference game. Hopefully our guys are ready to play and play a bit better, some of us, than we did last week.
“Football is an ultimate team sport. You can be on a team that’s number seven in the nation and 3-0 and not play well. Most of our guys are playing well, don’t get me wrong. We just have a few that need to pick up their play if we’re to have a big year. We’re looking forward to the game. Whether or not the Missouri quarterback starts or plays, there’s nothing we can do about that. I sort of expect him to play unless he’s really hurt.
“It’s another ball game; another big one (in the) Eastern Division. If we’ll have a chance to win the division, this is a crucial game for us.”