Shaw rattled by Death Valley?

Connor Shaw has been the epitome of business-like attitude in his previous 14 games, but there seemed to be a different Shaw in Baton Rouge Saturday night. Could Shaw, the most focused player on South Carolina's team, have been rattled by the environment in Death Valley? There's a good chance he was.

Connor Shaw was not the same Connor Shaw that was 13-1 as the starting quarterback of South Carolina. Really, for the first time in Shaw's career he was rattled Saturday night against LSU in a 23-21 loss to the Tigers in Death Valley.

"I don't know if he got hit in the head tonight or not," Steve Spurrier said after the game. "I kept asking G.A. (Mangus), 'Did he get hit in the head somewhere?' Some of his decision-making was a little off."

Shaw may have gotten hit hard a few times, but there was nothing physically wrong with him. For Shaw, it was all mental. That can happen when you have 92,734 fans screaming at you all night and you're facing a team that was 17-1 following a loss under their current coach. The crowd had Carolina confused and Shaw discombobulated. At the end of the first half, there was an obvious miscommunication between Shaw and Bruce Ellington. Ellington was open cutting towards the goalpost and Shaw threw it towards the pylon in the corner of the end zone and the ball fell innocently to the ground. Spurrier was irate with the play, not only because it would have been a touchdown if Shaw and Ellington were on the same page, but because it was thrown to the wrong side of the field to begin with.

"In the first half, we had a guy running a deep run on our sideline, and he threw it to the other sideline," Spurrier said. "It was pretty irritating when we had a chance to hang one in the end zone, and he threw it to the other side. He just got confused. Anyway, I guess sometimes that happens."

It was Shaw's first trip into an environment like Death Valley. He was not the quarterback that went to Auburn, the Swamp or Clemson two years ago, and he was not the quarterback that went to Athens last season. The closest Shaw got to the environment he saw Saturday night was when Carolina traveled to Arkansas last season, which just so happens to be Shaw's other loss as a starting quarterback. While the crowd of 73,804 in Fayetteville was raucous, it did not compare to the crowd at LSU. Though Carolina lost that game to the Razorbacks 44-28, Shaw did not play horrible. He took several sacks he shouldn't have, but for the most part he was the same steady quarterback that did not make a crucial mistake. Again, that was not the case against the Tigers.

Though Shaw had not played well at all most of the night, and had missed that touchdown pass earlier, he still had the ball in the fourth quarter with a 14-13 lead. That's when he made the most crucial mistake of his Gamecock career.

"I was off balanced," Shaw said. "I should have flipped my hips and set my feet. I just kind of rushed the throw, and it got away from me."

Shaw rolled to his left, which in hindsight was probably the wrong play call, and saw Rory Anderson coming over the middle of the field beyond the first down marker. Shaw awkwardly tried to flip the ball across his body with all his momentum going towards the sideline, and it sailed way beyond Anderson. The ball sailed right into the hands of LSU's Eric Reid at the Tiger 49, who was playing deep in the zone. Reid returned it across field 29 yards to the Carolina 22 before Ellington was able to take him to the ground. While that was just a mental mistake by Shaw that was influenced by the crowd or LSU, it was still a mental mistake that Shaw just does not normally make.

"We thought we would get him out of the pocket a little bit and Buster was coming by," Spurrier said. "He threw off-balanced. He didn't plant his feet and throw it."

While the crowd certainly played a factor in Shaw's performance, it was the LSU defense that played the biggest role. In games where Shaw has run the ball well he has been most successful. Coming off an injury in the UAB game, Shaw understandably simply did not want to run the ball. He went out at the end of the first half and finished with -6 rushing yards and it was probably one of his worst performances to date. Prior to that his career low in games he started was 24 yards against Arkansas last season. Saturday night LSU pinned Shaw in the backfield and did not allow him to leave the pocket. Shaw finished the game with -1 yards rushing, his lowest in a complete game.

"They just contained me," Shaw said. "They didn't let me get out of the pocket and their pass protection was pretty decent, especially in the first half. Sometimes I just have to hang in there and make a throw."

Make no mistake about it, Shaw is still the starting quarterback and he will start Saturday in the Swamp barring unforeseen circumstances. Shaw is just 11 wins away from tying Todd Ellis for wins as a starting quarterback and is on pace to break his own school record from a year ago in completion percentage.

"Connor's played beautifully all year," Spurrier said. "He had some good plays tonight, but he wasn't as sharp as he's been in the past. Hopefully, he can get back to it."

Carolina needs Shaw to get back to it in a hurry. They know they have to beat Florida in order to have any realistic chance of winning the SEC East. They will not beat Florida if Shaw does not return to his previous form. If Shaw can return to being the quarterback he has been his entire career, then he very well could pick up his first legitimate road victory and return the Gamecocks to the top of the SEC East.

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