One of the biggest reasons for tenth-ranked South Carolina's success this season has been the emergence of quarterback Connor Shaw. After being given the start in the season opener against East Carolina and struggled mightily. Shaw completed just 3-of-9 passes for 21 yards and a fumble in the first quarter before being replaced by Stephen Garcia. Five weeks later Shaw took back the starting job for good.
After having his best statistical game of the season against Kentucky in which he completed 26-of-39 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns, Shaw had the starting job. Several days later Garcia was dismissed permanently from the team and any remaining controversy was over.
Over the next five games, Shaw was just good enough to get the job done. He would throw just five touchdown passes in those five games as the Gamecocks failed to score over 17 points in four of those five games. The lone exception was the 28 points the Gamecocks put up in a 44-28 loss to Arkansas.
Shaw would save perhaps his best performance of the season for the final game of the regular season. Shaw completed 14-of-20 passes for 210 yards and three touchdowns in the finale against arch-rival Clemson.
"I've seen the difference since his confidence has grown through the season," quarterback coach G.A. Mangus said following Carolina's Thursday practice in Orlando. "Quarterbacks need to play. The more they play the quicker the game slows down for them, and the more it slows down for them the more their confidence grows. That's what you're seeing with Connor. I think he's just a much more confident guy now than he was seven or eight weeks ago."
For the season Shaw has completed 66% of his passes for 1218 yards and 12 touchdowns with six interceptions. Now he has to try and break a three-game losing streak in bowl games, in which quarterback play has been a problem. Garcia threw more interceptions than touchdowns in the three games as the Gamecock offense struggled. That should be plenty of motivation for Shaw to perform well in next week's Capital One Bowl.
"I hope so. It should be," Mangus said. "It should be for the entire team. Something has to change. We've got to go and win a bowl game. The big thing last year was the turnovers. We've been harping on it a lot. You can't turn the ball over a lot and beat a good football team."
Shaw and the Gamecock offense will see a Nebraska defense that is a far cry from the feared "Blackshirt" defenses that the Cornhuskers have been known to have. The Huskers are yielding 23 points per game and 351 yards of offense in their inaugural Big Ten season. However, the ‘Husker defense will be facing a Carolina offense that is very similar to one it has, led by the zone-read option.
"They run it themselves," Mangus said. "They run a bunch of that stuff so they've got ways to try and stop themselves in practice I'm sure. I don't think you ever really know until the game starts. That's why it's a thing of adjusting during the game because you never really know how someone is going to play you."
The Nebraska defense is led by second-team All-American Lavonte David, a 6'1, 225 pound linebacker. The senior leads the team in tackles by a large margin with 122 tackles, 45 more than anyone else on the team. David also has 3.5 sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries on the season.
If Shaw and any other Gamecock players get by David, safety Austin Cassidy will be waiting for them. Cassidy has 68 tackles, two interceptions, one fumble recovery, and a touchdown.
"(David) is their best player, the linebacker," Mangus said. "He can run, he's a good tackler, he's a very good football player. Their safeties get to the ball very well in the run game. (Cassidy) is an aggressive, good smart player. He seems to read things very well. (David) is the guy that really makes them tick so to speak."
Shaw steadily improving
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