“If you take away Connor Shaw’s ability to scramble on plays that breakdown, you beat South Carolina”, and it made sense in my mind and seemed easy enough. It’s so simple that no one has done it yet, outside of Arkansas circa 2011.
He’s the second leading rusher on the team, with 64 carries for 281 yards and one touchdown, and the lone touchdown came Saturday against Georgia. Lost in those meaningless stats are the times Shaw has picked up first downs and moved the chains with a simple six-yard scramble on third down. You almost begin to take it for granted.
Whether it’s the whole idea of South Carolina being dominant in the SEC East, a league the Gamecocks had struggled mightily before Steve Spurrier took over in 2005, or whether it’s Spurrier winning with a zone-read offense totally different from his 90’s game plan, I couldn’t bring myself to believe the fact that Connor Shaw was a championship quarterback.
Now, 13-1 as a starter and after a blowout of the #5 team, I’m ready to face my doubts and skepticism of one of the most improved and toughest players in the SEC. All of Shaw’s wins truly haven’t been pretty, but rarely anything in this league is pretty.
Yeah, I realize South Carolina ran the football 51 times and threw only 10 passes against Georgia. But Shaw came out and looked fantastic and was not rattled by the big stage. That’s just another game for the calm and focused Shaw, and it was over in the first quarter. He finished 6 of 10 for 162 yards and two touchdowns through the air and added one on the ground. He didn’t have to throw over 10 passes because Georgia laid down.
But how good is Connor Shaw really? It’s telling that one of the best offensive minds and head coaches of our lifetime has totally changed his mentality of airing it out to fit Shaw’s game. Does that say more about Spurrier or Shaw?
Spurrier of the 90’s would have benched Shaw for Dylan Thompson, Shaw’s backup who has played very well in his absence. Thompson got his first start against East Carolina when Shaw was injured and connected on 21 of 37 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns. That’s a Spurrier quarterback. Shaw hasn’t thrown for 330 yards in a game in his career. Shaw started the next game against UAB and reinjured his shoulder. Thompson once again came in and shined, throwing for two touchdowns. Many ill-advised fans and even bigger skeptics of Shaw called for a quarterback controversy. And while I wasn’t buying any kind of controversy, Spurrier let it be known Shaw was his quarterback.
“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 is Spurrier’s guy, a son of a coach who just gets it. He’s a winner; he’s the ultimate throwback player for Spurrier’s new-age game plan consumed with one thing – winning.
Shaw doesn’t care about hairline fractures; he doesn’t care about bruises or ice baths on Sunday mornings; he doesn’t care that his coach can be the biggest pain in the ass coach on the practice field on any given day; he obviously doesn’t care if he throws for 80 yards but wins the football game. Shaw has done that several times.
Shaw, in fact, returned against Missouri, connecting on 20 straight passes and two touchdowns, surgically dismantling the Tigers’ hopes of getting their first SEC win on the road.
His coaches believe in him. His teammates believe in him. And I’m certainly coming around. How did it take me this long?!
He’s the type of quarterback that makes opponents’ fans pound the coffee table because he’s a 6-1, 207-pound quarterback playing like he’s 6-5, 240 pounds dismantling teams’ dreams of SEC and national championships. And it’s usually not pretty while it’s happening, and that’s what makes them so angry.
“He can’t do this to our team.” That’s what I heard a Georgia fan tell me before Saturday night. “Our defense is just too fast and will hit Shaw on his scrambles.” I’m not sure they even touched him. He ran for 78 yards on the defense that was supposed to be “too fast”.
Besides Spurrier, the biggest thing going for Shaw is Marcus Lattimore’s health. Combined, they are a nasty duo and tandem. Lattimore eats up tough yardage against nasty defenses, letting Shaw pull out the zone-read handoff for eight yards on any carry. We saw against Georgia how devastating play action can be. They work so well together, and Spurrier has the pieces set for his ground-and-pound offense.
So, Shaw will continue to go out and be the facilitator of the offense. He’s going to throw to his receivers and tight ends for minimal gains. He’s going to turn around and hand it off to Lattimore 20-plus times per game. And yes, he’s still going to run.
Shaw won me over with all the right ingredients – make plays when it matters, win games, and leads his team with his toughness. Shaw’s record speaks for itself at 13-1. After his injury against Vanderbilt, Shaw returned in the second half and willed his team to a 17-13 win. They fed off his toughness. Shaw takes a lick and gets right back into the huddle early 90’s style. That’s what I love and have always loved about him. But I’m a believer now.
So, if you’re a head coach heading into a road game in Baton Rouge against LSU, which quarterback in the SEC do you want starting for you? Aaron Murray? Nah. Tyler Bray? No way. Tyler Wilson? Maybe. Jeff Driskel? Maybe. AJ McCarron? Probably. Connor Shaw? Definitely. Outside of McCarron, I’m not sure I would want another quarterback leading my team in a hostile environment.
What’s it going to take for Shaw to win you over?