Connor Shaw: South Carolina’s Underrated QB
By Matthew Osborne
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Although South Carolina QB Connor Shaw is not ranked highly on NFL draft boards, his skill set makes him one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in all of college football.
For the first time in quite a few seasons, the South Carolina Gamecocks will enter summer camp without a quarterback controversy dominating the bulk of the program’s media coverage.
Last offseason, South Carolina’s biggest storyline was easily veteran QB Stephen Garcia and his seemingly endless string of off-field issues. Despite being the recipient of a multitude of arrests and suspensions, Gamecock head coach Steve Spurrier continued to extend additional opportunities for Garcia to rectify his spiraling reputation.
Through all of the drama surrounding Garcia’s actions away from the gridiron, many pundits were also extremely concerned about his inconsistent play on the field. Garcia had been under center for some of the greatest moments in program history, but also drew the ire of many for his lackluster play in games in which South Carolina was the overwhelming favorite.
With so many question marks surrounding their beleaguered quarterback, many people expected sophomore signal caller Connor Shaw to eventually find his way into the rotation in the backfield.
Following the fifth game of the season, however, Garcia went from being one of college football’s most enigmatic figures to being an afterthought for the South Carolina program. After failing to meet agreed-upon guidelines which were put in place following his fifth suspension last spring, Garcia was dismissed from the Gamecock program, paving the way for Shaw to become the unquestioned leader of the offense.
Much like his predecessor at quarterback, Shaw’s first handful of starts were marred by inconsistency. After throwing for 311 yards and four touchdowns in his first start against Kentucky, Shaw threw just two touchdowns over his next four starts.
Growing pains are to be expected for any young, inexperienced quarterback, however, and Shaw responded by ending the season with a trio of exceptional performances. In his final three games of 2011, Shaw completed 75% of his passes for 657 yards, eight touchdowns and a lone interception. He also added an additional 239 yards and three scores on the ground.
It is important to note that Shaw’s flurry of production at the end of the year came without the presence of star RB Marcus Lattimore, who suffered a season-ending injury in game seven against Mississippi State. Without his talented accomplice by his side in the backfield, Shaw was forced to take an active role in the Gamecocks’ ground game. In his eight starts last season, Shaw averaged almost 16 carries per game, including consecutive 19-carry performances to conclude the year.
Shaw parlayed his late-season progress into a successful spring campaign earlier this year. During the Gamecocks’ annual Garnet and Black Spring Game, Shaw completed 6-of-7 passes for a pair of touchdowns in limited action.
“I think all in all it went pretty well,” Shaw said of spring practice. “I think I improved a little bit and gained some momentum going into the summer.”
The loss of WR Alshon Jeffery is certain to make many experts question just how prolific this South Carolina passing attack can become, but the Gamecock coaching staff appears to be extremely confident in their talented receiving corps. Ace Sanders is a shifty slot receiver capable of wreaking havoc in the open field, while D.L. Moore and DeAngelo Smith combine to give the Gamecocks a pair of tall playmakers out wide. Smith has just four catches in his collegiate career, but he has been a star in each of the last two spring practices, and he is expected to shine now that he steps in for the departed Jeffery.
With a healthy Lattimore back in the rotation, the Gamecocks will possess one of the top quarterback-running back rushing tandems in the nation this fall, and the option will unquestionably be a mainstay in the offense. In addition, Shaw has proven that he can be both efficient and explosive in the passing game. An offseason spent as the unquestioned starter under center should also lead to a spike in confidence for Shaw.
Although Shaw is unlikely to rank highly on NFL draft boards, his skill set makes him one of the most unique and dynamic quarterbacks in all of college football.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this is Shaw’s team. With his talent and newfound experience, he is poised to lead the Gamecocks to previously unattained heights.