NOTEBOOK: Shaw cleared to play

After being knocked out of last week's game with a concussion, Connor Shaw has been cleared to play this week against Florida. Also, South Carolina still has hopes of setting a school record for conference wins and still win the East with some help from Auburn.

With less than 5:30 left in Saturday's game at Arkansas, South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw dropped back to pass before being drilled by Arkansas' Jake Bequette on what appeared to be clear helmet-to-helmet shot, resulting in Shaw fumbling the ball at the Gamecock goal-line and leaving the game with a concussion. That created a scare throughout the fan base that perhaps Shaw would be unable to play Saturday afternoon when the Gamecocks host Florida in the final SEC game of the season. Those fears were relieved Tuesday afternoon when Shaw was officially cleared to play against the Gators.

"Yeah, we think Connor's going to be alright by the middle of the week," head coach Steve Spurrier said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. "Clint Haggard, our trainer, gave him the test to see how he was doing, and he's been doing very well."

Earlier in the half Shaw was the victim of a late hit from Bequette, resulting in a 15-yard penalty on a Carolina drive that resulted in a touchdown. Though neither were intended to be dirty plays to injure Shaw, Spurrier said that Carolina did turn in film of the missed call to the SEC offices, something the Gamecocks have done on a regular basis this season.

"Well, the first one, they called the penalty on the first roughing, where (Bequette) head-butted him after he threw the ball," Spurrier said. "The second one, yeah we turned it in, we'll have to see what they say. It was hands to the face, whether or not it was helmet and hands, the head of officials will try to figure it out. But it must not have been. The head ref was standing right there watching the play. But we did turn it in."

While that is all in the past and has no impact on this week's game, Shaw's health is. Though he was cleared to play, concussions can become quite problematic for quarterbacks once they suffer from one. That is particularly troublesome for a mobile quarterback like Shaw, who has a tendency to take hits. Spurrier says back-up Dylan Thompson will be ready to go should Shaw get banged up.

"They rotate in practice a bit, although Connor usually gets 80 percent of it probably, 75 or 80 percent," Spurrier said. "But yeah, Dylan will get a few snaps here and there."

After sitting out Monday's practice, which was a conditioning practice, Shaw was expected to return Tuesday afternoon and throw the ball around.

"He's going to pitch around a little bit today," Spurrier said. "Our trainer said that he could pitch around a little bit today, so he'll be out there. I don't know if he'll be in full gear or not but he'll be able to throw it around. He felt fine last night and they held him out, but today he should be able to throw."

DeVonte Holloman also suffered a concussion in the loss to the Razorbacks, but his status is still unclear. Antonio Allen, who missed Saturday's game with a strained neck, should be back for Saturday's contest.

"Vonte Holloman is still hurting a bit, we don't know if he'll be able to play," Spurrier said. "Antonio Allen should be back. He was running around last night for the first time in a week, so hopefully he'll be able to play the entire game for us."

If Holloman is unable to go, freshman Brison Williams would get the start at safety with Sharrod Golightly backing him up.

"Hopefully he'll play solid back there, solidly," Spurrier said of Williams. "Sharrod Golightly's another candidate. He's practiced a bunch back there. No. 9. He's been here all year so we'll go with what we've got if DeVonte can't go."

Though D.J. Swearinger played Saturday night, he has been hampered by a foot injury, but he should play Saturday as well.

"He's got a sprained foot," Spurrier said. "He's got a foot that's nagging him. He probably won't practice too much during the week, but they think he should be able to play. It was bothering him a little bit, that's one reason he was not on kickoff coverage."

Still in the hunt

Though Saturday's loss to Arkansas kept Carolina from controlling their fate in the SEC East, they still have an outside shot of defending their division championship. Should Carolina beat the Gators, the Gamecocks would need Georgia to lose one of their final two conference games against Auburn and Kentucky. Should Florida beat Carolina, Georgia would have to lose both of its games.

"We're fortunate to be in the position we're in," Spurrier said. "We're 7-2 and got our last conference game, last game against an eastern opponent, and hopefully we'll play well. We all know what's at stake; we all know what's out there. And we're going to try our best to play football, that's what we need to concentrate on."

As wacky as the 2010 season was when a South Carolina team that lost three conference games played in the SEC Championship game, 2011 could be just as crazy. Should Carolina beat the Gators, they would finish with a better conference record than 2010, set a school record for SEC wins in one season, and go 5-0 against the SEC East but still not play for the SEC Championship.

"Well, a little unusual," Spurrier said. "But we're 7-2 (overall), 5-2 in the conference and got a chance to win more conference games than ever around here in 20 years of ball. So, we can't sit around here and feel sorry for ourselves even though we haven't played spectacularly, we've won a bunch of games, so we've just got to look at where we are and try to get ready to play our best this week with the players we have, and that's what we're going to try to do."

If Georgia were to beat both Auburn and Kentucky they would finish with a 7-1 conference record, reeling off seven consecutive conference wins after losing the conference opener to South Carolina. That would vault the Dawgs into the conference championship game where they would likely face No. 1 LSU. While many would be upset to accomplish so much in 2011 and still not qualify for the conference championship game, Spurrier doesn't see it that way.

"Well, if Georgia wins seven straight conference games, they probably deserve to be the Eastern Division champion, if they could do that," Spurrier said. "But we can't worry about that. We've got to worry about beating Florida here and let it go at that. That's what we're trying to do right there."

To say Saturday's game is a "must" win is an understatement. Georgia could potentially lose to Auburn Saturday in Athens, but expecting them to lose to both Auburn and Kentucky is highly unlikely.

"It's a must win," Spurrier said. "We're going to try our best to win. I don't like to use the word 'must' much. Sometimes guys get a little too uptight if you try to say ‘We have to do this, we have to do that.' The only thing we ever ask them to do is to play your best. Be mentally, physically, emotionally ready to play your best. That's what we want to try our best to do."

Statistically speaking, fans should expect a close game between similar teams. While Carolina is averaging nearly four points more per game, the Gators have given up slightly few points. Both teams are very similar in total offense and total defense.

"If you watch both of the offenses you say, ‘Well there's not going to be a lot of 80-yard drives for touchdowns,'" Spurrier said. "You don't think there's going to be. There could be."

When two evenly-matched teams line up against each other, the game is often decided by special teams and turnovers. Florida is second in the SEC in kickoff returns while the Gamecocks are last in kickoff coverage.

"Well, we've probably got to change personnel again," Spurrier said. "We're going round and around with our personnel. And prior to last week, we had Antonio and Melvin ready to cover, and then, of course, Antonio was out, so we sort of went back to some guys that had had some problems.

"We've got to really be careful on special teams," Spurrier continued. "Florida can block punts, they run kickoffs back. They're the best in the country and they play their starters. I think (Chris) Rainey's supposed to play this week. He's a guy that's blocked punts, running back, he does it all. We've got to be at our best on special teams."

South Carolina appears to have a slight advantage in the turnover margin. The Gamecocks have forced 27 turnovers while Florida has only forced 8 turnovers, last in the SEC. However, Carolina has also turned the ball over 25 times – an SEC high – while Florida has turned it over 17 times.

"The big plays, the big plays, the turnovers, you hope they go your way, make them go our way," Spurrier said.

Offensive line woes

Ever since senior tackle Kyle Nunn went out with an injury and has since been lost for the season, the offensive line has struggled mightily protecting Shaw and opening up lanes for the running game. Guard A.J. Cann went to tackle against Arkansas to replace Cody Gibson, but Spurrier says that move won't stick. Gibson will be back at tackle and Mike Matulis could potentially get playing time.

"I think we're going to go back with Cody and Mike Matulis," Spurrier said. "We need to give Matulis a chance to play. He got to play against Kentucky. Maybe we were thinking about redshirting him, but we've got too much at stake right now. Gee, it's not every year we come into the last game of the conference 5-2. We're in an excellent position for a lot of good things to happen to Carolina football. If Matulis can help us out over there at right tackle, I think we've got to get a good look at him this week."


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