COLUMBIA — South Carolina owns a decided, across-the-roster talent advantage over East Carolina, its opponent in Saturday’s home opener, but the Gamecocks’ odds of avoiding an upset depend largely on the availability of one player more than any other: quarterback Connor Shaw.
Shaw’s status for the game remains uncertain despite insisting after Thursday’s 17-13 season-opening win at Vanderbilt that he “absolutely” would play against East Carolina. Perhaps Shaw was feeling hopeful after receiving a postgame pain-killing shot in his right (throwing) shoulder, which he bruised at Vanderbilt.
USC practiced Saturday, but Shaw did not participate. And he won’t work out today when the Gamecocks return to practice.
“Connor’s condition is wait and see,” USC coach Steve Spurrier said Sunday. “We’ll see how he is probably Wednesday or so, if he’ll practice any before then. He got sort of a deep bruise on the bone on the back of the shoulder there. It’s not in the joint. It’s just painful for him. He has trouble lifting his arm right now. It’s pretty hard to play quarterback at the condition he’s in right now. They say it may loosen up probably in three or four days, so we’ll wait and see about that.
“If he’s not healthy, we’re not going to play him. It depends on if he can throw the ball and he’s not in pain. We’ll know more about him come Wednesday.”
Spurrier maintained that Dylan Thompson would be Shaw’s likely replacement, though Thompson was a disaster Thursday. He handled the second half’s first two drives, while Shaw recuperated. Both possessions went three plays and out, and resulted in minus-12 and minus-2 yards. Thompson has been the No. 2 quarterback since Stephen Garcia’s dismissal last season.
“I think Dylan is probably ahead of the other guys a little bit,” Spurrier said.
Shaw’s shoulder is one issue. But even when Shaw is 100 percent again, Spurrier knows the problems that again cropped up Thursday in USC’s passing game, well before Shaw got hurt, must be fixed if the Gamecocks are going to build on last season’s 11-2 record.
USC’s 67 passing yards Thursday were its fewest ever under Spurrier, who arrived in 2005. Of the Gamecocks’ 62 plays, just 10 netted 10-plus yards, including four that resulted in 20-plus yards. Since the beginning of the 2007 season, USC had played just eight games in which it gained fewer total yards than it did at Vanderbilt (272). The Gamecocks were 2-6 in those games, so Spurrier said they were “extremely fortunate” to get out of Vanderbilt with a win.
USC’s offensive line performance Thursday irked Spurrier. Moreover, when Shaw does have adequate protection, Spurrier wants to see him hang in the pocket longer and try to throw, rather than scramble. This has been an issue for Shaw since last season, but the coaches believed he made significant progress with it during the spring and summer. Not counting the one time he was sacked, Shaw ran 13 times at Vanderbilt and threw 11 passes. Spurrier, who doubles as the offensive coordinator, said he called about 30 pass plays.
“Sometimes, we had time to throw and we took off running,” Spurrier said. “Sometimes we didn’t have time to throw and we took off running.
“It seems like every play was a scramble play, which I don’t like particularly. We do have a quarterback that can run. If you’ve got a quarterback that can run, he’s going to take off running a bunch, I guess. Connor’s been pretty good in preseason about letting it go. Maybe he reverted back a little bit to scrambling because he is such a good runner with the ball.”
Tyler Hull handled all six of USC’s punts on Thursday, and Spurrier said he will stick with Hull, who battled Patrick Fish for the job even in the days before the opener. ... Spurrier said redshirt freshman left tackle Brandon Shell (Goose Creek High) sprained his ankle in practice last week and was hampered by the injury. Shell struggled at times at Vanderbilt and didn’t finish the game. He limped badly afterward. Shell’s practice participation will be limited this week, Spurrier said, but he expects Shell to play against East Carolina. When Shell left the game, USC moved right tackle Mike Matulis to the left side and inserted Cody Gibson at right tackle. Both players are sophomores.