Published August 17, 2012 - 2:30pm
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SEC fodder at the local supermarket. Many of us can’t resist.
I ran into an old friend the other day that said I was being too optimistic about South Carolina’s chances at an SEC Championship this season. His vitriol included Marcus Lattimore’s return from injury, the effect of Melvin Ingram and Alshon Jeffrey’s departure and the old “schedule is too brutal” line.
Then came the clincher.
“And y’all have an unproven quarterback,” he squeaked.
Come again? I couldn’t help but laugh.
After proceeding to break down the things Connor Shaw did right last season — 14 TDs through the air and eight on the ground — what was more satisfying was recalling the bad ones. As Gamecock fans, we’re used to remembering those, but not so much anymore after an 11-win season.
Shaw’s interception against the Citadel was the only play forming in my head. He threw picks in four other games, but none were of the back-breaking variety. The errant pass against the Citadel was a direct heave to a wide-open linebacker. His only bad pass, I would argue, of the season. For a wet-behind-the-ears sophomore in the middle of eight-game stretch that could decide the SEC East, I’d say that’s pretty solid.
That’s how good this guy was as a first-year starter. With two years under his belt in South Carolina’s zone-read system entering the fall, imagine what Shaw can accomplish over the remainder of his Gamecock career. Likely Steve Spurrier’s best quarterback thus far in Columbia, the Flowery Branch, Ga. native has command of the offense, makes plays with his arm and his legs and has been squeaky clean off the field, three elements you must have in an elite quarterback.
Shaw went 7-1 under center following Stephen Garcia’s dismissal last season and helped the Gamecocks win five games without Lattimore. Not too shabby for a three-star quarterback who was only expected to see action as a senior after Garcia’s graduation.
Thank goodness Shaw slipped into the job a little earlier than expected. When my friend conceded the argument near the checkout line, I delved deeper into Shaw’s performance by the numbers.
He completed passes at a 65 percent clip and seemed to have more confidence in the season’s final month. Over his last three starts (Citadel, Clemson and Nebraska), Shaw tossed eight touchdowns passes and that one lone pick. Most of the credit went to Alshon Jeffrey on the Hail Mary touchdown in the Capital One Bowl, but had Shaw not eluded defenders and stepped up in the pocket, the catch could not have been made.
During multiple interviews this preseason, Spurrier has commended Shaw on his maturity level, leadership characteristics and productive play. If he’s as efficient as he was last season, the Gamecocks are once again headed to a double-digit win total.