South Carolina went all week without announcing who the starting quarterback might be. Starter Connor Shaw was still nursing a shoulder injury from the season-opener against Vanderbilt and it appeared that Dylan Thompson would pick up his second straight start.
Thompson threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns in last week's 48-10 win over East Carolina. With an important SEC East game with Missouri on the horizon, conventional wisdom would have led you to believe that Thompson would start with Shaw getting another week of rest. However, during the announcement of the starting lineup, Connor Shaw's name flashed across the video board at Williams-Brice.
The surprising announcement meant that Shaw was 100 percent healthy in the mind of his coach Steve Spurrier. Spurrier had said earlier in the week that if Shaw was unable to throw the football without pain, he wouldn't play. The start on Saturday night gave hope that Shaw was fully healed and ready to lead the Gamecocks once again.
This was expected to be a tune-up game for next week's Missouri matchup and give Shaw some in-game action to "knock off the rust."
Things didn't quite go as planned.
Shaw and the USC offense struggled in the first half against an inferior opponent.
There was some inconsistent passes from Shaw in the passing game. He was 2-of-4 in the first quarter for just 31 yards and one interception. Shaw also appeared hesitant in the running game awkwardly going down on quarterback keepers. His second quarter didn't fare much better. He went 6-of-10 for 76 yards passing in the quarter with a touchdown but the South Carolina offense was not clicking as a unit.
Late in the second quarter, Shaw took a big hit on a pass play and stayed on the ground with an apparent injury. As the junior quarterback got up, he was favoring the right arm which was the same arm where he suffered the shoulder contusion.
The official announcement from USC at halftime was that Shaw re-aggravated his shoulder injury and would miss the rest of the game.
So that bares asking the question: Why was Connor Shaw playing?
Steve Spurrier may be asking himself that same question now.
With Shaw's injury keeping him on the sidelines, Dylan Thompson would be inserted into the game and would instantly spark the South Carolina offense. In the third quarter alone, Thompson would throw for 147 yards and one touchdown, which was a 94-yard reception by Damiere Byrd. Thompson settled in for the Gamecocks and made some fantastic throws. He showcased a strong arm and nice accuracy on several deep throws and, the most important thing, he got the Gamecock offense in a rhythm.
Thompson's insertion into the lineup gave USC a spark. There was life in this offense that seemed dull all through the first half. With Thompson in the game, USC built its lead from 21-6 to 35-6 by the end of the third quarter. The game continued to become out of reach enabling USC to get to its bench in the fourth quarter in a blowout win for South Carolina. Thompson finished the night with 5-of-10 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns.
If Connor Shaw had stayed in the game, would he have provided that same spark for the Gamecocks?
Throughout this week, the words "quarterback controversy" will be mentioned but is there merit behind it? Right now, Connor Shaw will be your starter until he proves he can't be. Injury aside, you can't overlook what Shaw did last year. He obviously has the mental make up and ability to help South Carolina win big. Steve Spurrier is not one to replace a player because of injury. He will look at performance on the field and make his judgements based on that.
The good news for the Gamecocks is they've got two quarterbacks who appear capable of handling the job for Steve Spurrier. Thompson has shown that he can handle the expectations of Coach Spurrier and run this offense the way its meant to be run.
It was certainly the tale of two halves for South Carolina tonight.
Shaw will, once again, be a "wait and see" approach for the Gamecocks this week. Will he start on Saturday? Only time will tell.
If he can't, Steve Spurrier has an option and we all know he loves options.
The tale of two halves
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