COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s Connor Shaw is adding to his repertoire and increasing the sixth-ranked Gamecocks’ prospects in the Southeastern Conference.
Shaw connected on 20 straight passes and threw a pair of touchdowns in South Carolina’s 31-10 victory over Missouri on Saturday. It was a major step forward for a junior quarterback mostly known for beating teams with his legs.
If Shaw keeps passing like he did – and keeps opponents guessing whether he’ll run or throw – it will give the Gamecocks’ offense the added dimension at quarterback it’s been missing most of coach Steve Spurrier’s eight seasons.
“My goal was to come out here and play to the best of my ability,” Shaw said. “And I think I did.”
Shaw’s success used to come on designed quarterback draws or plays when things in the pocket break down. Spurrier’s biggest criticism of Shaw has always been his reluctance to just “turn it loose” downfield when a pass play is called.
Still, Shaw entered this season completing better than 66 percent of his throws, which ranked first all-time among South Carolina passers with at least 150 career attempts.
Shaw obliterated that percentage against the Tigers (2-2, 0-2 SEC). He finished 20 of 21 and was perfect after missing his first pass of the game, as the Gamecocks (2-0 SEC) moved to 4-0 for just the ninth time in 119 years of football.
Spurrier called Shaw’s performance sensational, especially considering the hairline fracture the junior has in his right, throwing shoulder. Shaw hurt himself against Vanderbilt in South Carolina’s opener and played just two quarters the next two games. Spurrier said early last week that Shaw was fine and would start.
“Connor came out of the game fine as he was all week,” Spurrier said Sunday. “He was able to run and throw and do everything as he was last year.”
Shaw stepped in as the Gamecocks’ starter in midseason last year because of the struggles of fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia. The job became Shaw’s for good a short time later when Garcia was dismissed from the program in early October. The Gamecocks relied largely on Shaw’s rushing abilities to keep winning, though he grew more comfortable throwing the ball as the season wore on.
He opened with a splashy four-touchdown, 311-yard performance against Kentucky last October, then went five games before reaching 200 yards again last year. In his final three starts of 2011 against Citadel, rival Clemson and Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, Shaw was a combined 41 of 55 for 657 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Gamecocks finished 11-2 last year, the most wins in program history.
If Shaw continues his sharp passing, the Gamecocks might be more than a long-shot hope to muscle in to SEC heavyweights Alabama, LSU and Georgia.
The tests will come soon enough. Shaw and the Gamecocks head to struggling Kentucky next week, then begin a defining stretch against the fifth-ranked Bulldogs, No. 3 LSU and No. 11 Florida.
Shaw’s 20 straight completions are tied for second in the SEC behind Tennessee national championship quarterback Tee Martin, who hit 23 in a row in 1998 against the Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium. Kentucky is seventh in the SEC in passing defense.
“Kentucky is struggling a bit as we know,” Spurrier said. “But they are capable.”
The last time South Carolina traveled to Kentucky as a big favorite in 2010, the Gamecocks were beaten 31-28 by the Wildcats – a week after South Carolina had upset No. 1 Alabama.
Shaw said the players remember that loss and will work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Shaw, 11-1 as a starter, enjoyed the upbeat mood in the locker room.
“I feel like you have to celebrate after a victory like that,” he said.
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