COLUMBIA — There’s no controversy for South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, not concerning the status of starting quarterback Connor Shaw or the Southeastern Conference’s suspension of safety D.J. Swearinger.
Spurrier said Tuesday Shaw would start Saturday when the seventh-ranked Gamecocks (3-0, 1-0 SEC) face Misssouri. He also didn’t take too much issue with the league’s one-game suspension of Swearinger for a helmet-to-helmet hit on UAB’s Patrick Hearn last week.
“Five, 10 years ago, they would call that ‘it’s part of football,’ but it’s not,” Spurrier said of Swearinger’s hit.
Freshman T.J. Gurley will start for Swearinger, who had a 65-yard fumble return touchdown in the 49-6 victory over UAB.
“We’re going to miss one of our brothers out there,” Gamecocks linebacker Shaq Wilson said. “But our defense is 11 people to the ball. We just have to go out there and be able to communicate, keep guys positive.”
Spurrier said Shaw will bring plenty of positives to South Carolina’s offense, despite the injury to his right, throwing shoulder. The quarterback was first hurt in the Gamecocks’ opener against Vanderbilt last month. He missed the next game, a 48-10 win over East Carolina, before starting against the Blazers. Shaw took another big hit on his shoulder right in the UAB game before halftime and did not return for the second half.
Shaw said afterward he had a hairline fracture in the shoulder.
Dylan Thompson has thrown for 507 yards and five touchdowns in relief of Shaw the past two games. Still, Spurrier said Shaw is ready to play against the Tigers (2-1, 0-1).
“Connor Shaw was throwing the ball around very well” Monday night, Spurrier said. “He’ll start. He’s fine. If there’s a place for Dylan to come in the game and help us try to beat Missouri, we’ll certainly consider that.”
Shaw’s running ability has been critical to South Carolina’s rise the past two years. Despite the injury, Shaw rushed for 92 yards against Vanderbilt and led the game-clinching touchdown drive in South Carolina’s 17-13 victory.
Shaw, perhaps worried about his injured shoulder, rushed only five times against UAB. Spurrier acknowledged without that dimension, the Gamecocks’ offense won’t be as good. Spurrier also won’t alter the game plan to protect Shaw’s shoulder.
“There’s no question that running the ball is what Connor does, which makes him a good quarterback,” Spurrier said. “So if he plays, he’ll run it some. If he can’t run, I don’t think he’s quite as effective.”
Thompson doesn’t have to run to be effective. He has given the Gamecocks a passing game they’ve rarely displayed with Shaw under center.
Still, Spurrier brushed aside any growing quarterback debate over Shaw and Thompson among the players. The two QBs are good friends who’ve always showed a team-first attitude, Spurrier said.
“I hope Connor feels, `Hey, Dylan can play. If I’m not doing very well, if I’m hurting a little bit, Dylan can help us go in there and win the game,”’ Spurrier said “So, I think both of them hopefully feel pretty good about each other. Maybe the team is a little stronger because we have two quarterbacks who can play.”
Missouri has some quarterback issues of its own.
Tigers’ starter James Franklin sat out Missouri’s 24-20 victory over Arizona State last week with inflammation in his shoulder. Franklin has said he’s 90 percent certain he’ll play in Missouri’s first-ever SEC road game.
“Anybody that questions James Franklin’s toughness, they have to have been in a coma for the last two years,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “He’s one of the toughest athletes I’ve ever been around.”
Spurrier expects to see Franklin on the field for Missouri.
Franklin won’t have to worry about Swearinger, who’s had nine tackles and an interception to go along with his fumble recovery this year. The SEC determined Monday Swearinger’s hit on UAB’s Hearn was a “flagrant and dangerous act,” worthy of the one-game suspension.
Spurrier took the high road about the incident.
“We’re going to live with it and D.J. will be ready next week,” the coach said. “He’ll be with us on the sideline. He’ll be a good teammate and hopefully help the guys that are on the field.”
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