Don’t expect Steve Spurrier to play musical quarterbacks when the Gamecocks open fall practice on Friday.
He’s got his guy — with plenty of experience — who’s capable of a Southeastern Conference Player of the Year-caliber season.
Much has been made throughout offseason about South Carolina’s two quarterbacks, Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, and the varying wrinkles they bring to the Gamecocks’ run-based attack. One’s a tuck it and run option who has mastered the zone read and play-action pass while the other prefers staying in the pocket and stretching defenses down the field with an arm better than most second-stringers.
Make no mistake however on who will be directing USC’s unit in the opener against North Carolina on Aug. 29: This is Shaw’s team and there’s no controversy about it.
Spurrier has recently made it clear — even after Thompson’s final drive heroics in the Outback Bowl and 10:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio as a sophomore — Shaw is the team’s senior starter and will continue to lead the Gamecocks offense until he plays himself out of the role. That’s not to say his preferred passer, who is now at full strength after missing spring practice following surgery on his left foot in January, won’t line up in the slot or alongside Thompson in the shotgun.
South Carolina quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus likes the idea of having both players on the field at the same time, but that can be attributed to his “summer fun” with the playbook and designing slight variations of personnel groupings in formations that look good on paper. Shaw’s numbers, though not always flashy, don’t lie. He’s one of the SEC’s most accurate returning quarterbacks with a 66.9 career completion percentage, holds a 17-3 record over two seasons as the No. 1 guy (one of the best marks in school history) and commands the huddle with Marcus Lattimore no longer in the Garnet and Black.
Shaw’s the glue when the Gamecocks have possession, the facilitator of South Carolina’s ground game. With that being said, the Head Ball Coach may have something up his sleeve if the opportunity presents itself with the right down and distance.
“We (could) probably put two quarterbacks on the field at the same time,” Spurrier said at SEC Media Days. “(Shaw) is solid and he can carry the ball, take a pounding. Dylan has developed into a good drop-back passer. We’ve got to make sure we use both of them the best we can.”
Recently named the SEC’s most underrated player, competition from Thompson last season brought out the Flowery Branch, Ga., native’s best. Shaw watched from the sideline at Clemson as his understudy threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns last November. Spurrier didn’t waver after the late pregame scratch, saying Shaw would not lose his gig due to injury and proved his point by starting his No. 1 against Michigan in Tampa a few weeks later. Shaw managed one of his best outings to date against the Wolverines with 320 yards of total offense.
Despite an injury-riddled junior campaign with an up-and-comer breathing down his neck, Shaw set personal highs in every statistical passing category and became more reliable in passing situations. Both quarterbacks will play this season, but not in a rotational sense. Spurrier likened the pair to his stud duo Rex Grossman and Jesse Palmer in Birmingham and even tossed in a subtle dig at Stephen Garcia after saying the Gamecocks had two guys that care.
Thompson’s opportunity to direct the show as South Carolina’s exclusive option is coming, just not in 2013. This is Shaw’s season and the Gamecocks’ shot at winning the SEC East hinges on his legs and his arm.
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