He is, by nature, a mostly serious young man.
CONNOR SHAW Height: 6-1Weight: 207 pounds Class: Junior
You can hear it in his media interviews — terse and monotone. His coaches can see it in his approach to football — regular summer trips to the practice fields to participate in voluntary workouts with his receivers, hours studying video for his first full season as South Carolina’s starting quarterback.
USC SCHEDULE Date Opponent TimeAug. 30 at Vanderbilt 7 p.m.Sept. 8 vs. East Carolina 12:21 p.m.Sept. 15 vs. UAB 7 p.m.Sept. 22 vs. Missouri TBA Sept. 29 at Kentucky TBA Oct. 6 vs. Georgia TBA Oct. 13 at LSU TBA Oct. 20 at Florida TBA Oct. 27 vs. Tennessee TBA Nov. 10 vs. Arkansas TBA Nov. 17 vs. Wofford 1 p.m.Nov. 24 at Clemson TBA
Certainly, a serious demeanor is not a bad quality for someone in Connor Shaw’s position. Certainly, it is not the entirety of his personality, either. Right?
2012 South Carolina GamecocksHEAD COACH: Steve Spurrier, 55-35 in seven seasons at USC LAST YEAR: 11-2 overall (6-2 SEC) LAST BOWL GAME: Beat Nebraska 30-13 in the Capital One Bowl in January RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: 7 RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: 6 IMPACT PLAYERS: QB Connor Shaw, RB Marcus Lattimore, DE Jadeveon Clowney QUESTION MARKS: USC will begin the season with two new starting cornerbacks, Victor Hampton and likely Jimmy Legree, as Akeem Auguste is out at least a month with a thigh injury. Strong safety Brison Williams is also a new starter. Aside from Ace Sanders, the Gamecocks have no proven returning wide receivers as they try to replace Alshon Jeffery’s production.
“He knows when it’s time to get to work and when it’s time not to get to work,” said USC quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus. “He likes to work more than most.”
Mangus smiled as he said this. He loves that quality about Shaw, the son of a high school football coach. Shaw, a junior, has been
the Gamecocks’ starter since the sixth game of last season.
Since then, with every bold scramble and poised performance under pressure, Shaw has made people forget about his predecessor, Stephen Garcia, whose sometimes-brilliant on-field performances were overshadowed by his foolish off-field decisions.
More will be expected of Shaw this season, particularly as a passer. Opposing defenses will need to respect not only his running ability, but more so, tailback Marcus Lattimore, who is returning from a season-ending knee injury in 2011. This could result in more one-on-one coverage opportunities for Shaw, who took advantage of those situations late last season.
The yards per passing attempt statistic is regarded as a fair measure of a quarterback’s passing effectiveness, though his receivers obviously have something to do with it. In his first five starts last season, Shaw’s yards per attempt were 8.0, 5.5, 4.8, 5.1 and 6.8. In his last three starts, those numbers were 12.1, 10.5 and 13.5.
Yes, the first of those three was against The Citadel, but the last two were against Clemson and Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl — arguably the two highest-pressure games of the season.
Moreover, after throwing two interceptions in his second start, Shaw threw just four in the final six games, and none in the final two. In those six games, he averaged just 18.3 passing attempts, as USC relied on its defense, running game and Shaw’s game management to win. Shaw ran 15.8 times per game, counting sacks, in the final six games — usually on zone-read option plays that USC found so reliable. All eight of his rushing touchdowns also came in those six games.
Mangus would like to see Shaw hang in the pocket and keep his eyes downfield more often this season, rather than scrambling at the first sign of pressure. The logic being a 15-yard pass beats an eight-yard scramble, and in the bigger picture, having your 6-1, 207-pound quarterback make himself that vulnerable by running so frequently probably isn’t ideal.
Mangus also wants to see Shaw take charge now that this offense is his — and his alone.
“Connor’s big thing was really taking a more vocal leadership role,” Mangus said. “I think he’s done that, in terms of the leadership role and getting more vocal and checking plays on his own and just becoming more of a communicator out there. I think that comes with age and reps.”
The older, more experienced quarterbacks can take charge at the line of scrimmage and “check” from one play to another that is more likely to succeed, based on what they see from the defensive alignment. This is how they earn trust from their teammates.
But just the fact that No. 9 USC is now in a different quarterback situation than it was last preseason — with a starter solidified — has already benefited the offense and its familiarity with Shaw’s style.
“The improvement has been on another level,” said wide receiver Ace Sanders.
All the optimism about Shaw’s growth as a passer and his teammates’ confidence in him as their general will be tested come Thursday, when the Gamecocks open the season at Vanderbilt. It will be his 10th career start, and almost certainly the beginning of his two-year run as the sole occupant of his team’s most prominent position.
“I’ve been working on becoming more of a vocal leader,” Shaw said. “Once I get off the field, I have a good time with our players, so it’s not all business. But once we get on the field, it is.”