NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Connor Shaw saw the opening, created by two perfect blocks, and sprinted for it. He clutched the ball against his right side, the muscles in his bruised right shoulder surely straining. Whatever pain he might have felt disappeared. His vision tunneled, and he saw only the goal line.
Aug. 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
He dove for it, trying to reclaim the lead for South Carolina in the fourth quarter. He bounced off Vanderbilt free safety Kenny Ladler and slammed into the turf.
For a moment Thursday night, he lay there, a yard shy of the end zone after his 12-yard scramble. He had left the game late in the first half with an injured throwing shoulder, missed the second half's first two drives and returned. His first drive sputtered, but this, he had to know, was a scoring chance ninth-ranked USC couldn't squander.
After his scramble, he spent a play on the sideline. He returned and handed off to tailback Marcus Lattimore for a one-yard touchdown with 11:25 left in the game — a decisive score that added another hallmark game to Shaw's status as the Gamecocks' widely admired quarterback.
“It was painful,” he said. “But somehow I got through today.”
The touchdown put USC up 17-13, the score by which it won, in the season opener for both teams. USC's defense limited Vanderbilt to 276 yards and sacked Jordan Rodgers five times. Lattimore was brilliant at times in his return from last season's knee injury. He ran 23 times for 110 yards and two touchdowns, helping the Gamecocks get a jump on their Southeastern Conference East Division competition.
But Shaw's presence was the difference, as his game-winning drive covcovered nine plays and 66 yards. He returned with 6:02 left in the third quarter, immediately after Vanderbilt went up 13-10 on a 44-yard field goal — an impressive response to USC taking a 10-0 lead in the second quarter. Backup Dylan Thompson handled the second half's first two drives, which combined to lose 14 yards.
“There was no time to panic,” Shaw said.
But as Shaw walked off the field with 2:45 left in the first half and the score tied at 10, “everybody kind of got uptight” on the sideline, said defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles.
Shaw, so effective in the first half on zone read plays that he ran often in high school and last year, had just run for two yards. He dived for more. Outside linebacker Archibald Barnes planted his helmet in Shaw's shoulder blade. Shaw's arm went numb. While Shaw left the field, Lattimore asked if he was OK. “I'll be back in there,” Shaw responded. Lattimore wasn't so sure. Shaw was doubled over and wincing.
In the locker room, Shaw received oral pain medication. He threw a ball so his shoulder wouldn't stiffen. Out in the stadium, Vanderbilt's fans roared as Thompson struggled. Before jogging onto the field for his first drive back, Shaw hopped and windmill-motioned his arm. His first drive moved about the same amount – seven yards in three plays. He made his second drive count, and he masked his pain from his teammates.
“His voice didn't break in the huddle,” said tight end Justice Cunningham.
That Lattimore punctuated the drive was fitting. Before his first carry, on the game's first play, he said he felt “really, really nervous.” He fumbled the ball away. His second carry was a more recognizable Lattimore image – him dicing Vanderbilt's defense for a 29-yard touchdown.
Shaw exhaled his response when considering how it felt to see Lattimore back: “Ahhh, so nice.” There is surely relief, too, in the USC locker room, because Shaw said he “absolutely” will play next week at home against East Carolina. He expects to undergo significant treatment, which started with a postgame pain-killing shot.
Thursday was just his 10th career start, and while he showed guts, USC's passing game did little to help its cause. Shaw completed 7 of 11 passes for 67 yards and an interception, and frequently faced pressure. Coach Steve Spurrier called it “probably one of the worst passing nights we've ever had.” Spurrier hoped for a better start to this season of great expectations for USC, but in light of a win, he could consider the shortcomings a blessing of sorts.
“Maybe it's good for us,” he said. “You get that preseason press and think you're hot stuff. We almost got that stuff beat out of us.”
South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw is brought down by Vanderbilt's Eric Samuels during second-quarter action in Nashville, Tenn. on Thurs., Sept. 30, 2012. (Photo by Travis Bell/SIDELINE CAROLINA)×