COLUMBIA — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney shouldered his way through the mass of humanity that swarmed the field at Williams-Brice Stadium searching for one player — South Carolina’s Connor Shaw.
When Swinney finally caught up to Shaw, who led the Gamecocks to a 31-17 victory over the Tigers Saturday night, he shook the senior quarterback’s hand and gave him a quick hug before sprinting toward the visitors’ locker room.
“Connor Shaw played tremendous, just tremendous,” Swinney said. “What a great football player he is. I have all the respect in the world for Connor Shaw. He’s a great runner. There’s a reason why they’re undefeated at home and why he has never lost a game at home. He’s a tremendous competitor and I have a lot of respect for him.”
Shaw was surprised that Swinney approached him, but was touched by the gesture. It was a sign of respect for the winningest quarterback in South Carolina history.
“He said I was a tough athlete and that he had enjoyed watching me play,” said Shaw, who was 2-0 against Clemson as a starter. “Dabo’s a good guy, a good coach and I’m very appreciative that he came up and talked to me for a short while after the game.”
Not only is Shaw the winningest starting quarterback in USC history, but according to Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier, the Flowery Branch, Ga., native might be the best quarterback in South Carolina history.
“Connor Shaw, oh man, the best quarterback in school history,” Spurrier said. “He was the difference maker for us out there tonight. Running the ball, throwing the ball. He threw the ball beautifully in the first half, but they got some pressure on him in the second half. He was able to get some yards on the quarterback draw.”
Shaw’s record would certainly seem to back up Spurrier’s boast. Shaw will leave the program as the school’s all-time winningest quarterback with a 26-5 mark. And that’s with a bowl game left to play.
Since his first start during his sophomore season against Kentucky, Shaw never lost a game at Williams-Brice Stadium, going 17-0 in front of Gamecock Nation.
For the record, Shaw completed 14 of 26 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown Saturday night against the Tigers. But where he hurt the Tigers the most was with his feet, running the quarterback draw or going around the end on designed QB runs. Shaw finished with 94 rushing yards on 22 attempts, including a 3-yard TD run in the first quarter.
It was an eerily similar performance to the one Shaw had two years ago on the same field when he passed for 210 yards and rushed for 107 and a TD in the Gamecocks’ 34-13 victory over Clemson.
“It’s not like we didn’t know they were going to run the quarterback draws,” Swinney said. “We worked really hard on defending it, but obviously they blocked us and we missed a few tackles. But he’s just an excellent player. He’s got a great feel. Just very, very disappointed that we did not do a better job in stopping the quarterback.”
Shaw’s toughness and grit have earned the respect not only of his teammates, but from his opponents as well.
“He doesn’t do everything perfect out there, except win,” said Gamecocks defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles. “He does that better than anyone else. I love him.”
When he was introduced before the game during Senior Night festivities, Shaw said he almost got emotional. Knowing that this was his final game at Williams-Brice Stadium was hard to believe.
“There are no words I can use to describe how it feels,” Shaw said. “I’ve always loved playing at home from my first start against Kentucky. I’ve always felt comfortable here. We’ve got the best fans in the country. The atmosphere was great tonight. It was the loudest I’ve ever heard it here.”