COLUMBIA — Saturday’s home game against Wofford will mark Connor Shaw’s 19th start as South Carolina’s quarterback. When he makes his 20th start, the following week at Clemson, he will become the 12th USC quarterback since 1971 to start at least 20 games.
Presuming he starts all 13 games next season as a senior, he will finish his career with 34 starts, tied with Stephen Garcia for third-most by a USC quarterback since 1971, behind only Todd Ellis’ 43 from 1986-89 and Steve Taneyhill’s 40 from 1992-95.
Analyzing quarterback win-loss statistics like a baseball pitcher’s record is far from the truest measure of effectiveness. But for what it’s worth, USC is 15-3 with Shaw as its starting quarterback, compared to 20-14 with Garcia, 24-16-3 with Ellis and 20-19-1 with Taneyhill.
It’s important to note that USC had the nation’s No. 3 total defense last season and is No. 13 this season, which has quite a bit to do with those 15 victories.
USC coach Steve Spurrier, long a meticulous critic of his quarterbacks, wanted Shaw this season to do a better job of staying in the pocket and keeping his eyes downfield, rather than scrambling at the first sign of pressure.
Shaw didn’t have efficient passing games in October losses at LSU and Florida, as he threw for 5.2 and 3.6 yards per attempt. His 2011 season average was 7.7.
But against two struggling pass defenses the past two weeks, Tennessee and Arkansas, Shaw threw for 11.1 and 12.4 yards per attempt, which also has to do with his receivers’ success, of course. Tennessee and Arkansas are Nos. 117 and 118 of 124 teams nationally in pass defense. USC’s lone remaining Bowl Subdivision opponent, Clemson, is No. 47. Shaw’s total yards per attempt this season: 8.8.
“He’s done a lot better since we got back from Florida,” Spurrier said. “He’s hanging in there. I wish our protection was a little bit better. Our protection, line play needs to improve, as we all know.”
Sanders, Ellington swap
USC’s coaches recently switched wide receivers Bruce Ellington and Ace Sanders, moving Ellington to the outside receiver spot previously occupied by Sanders and sliding Sanders to Ellington’s former spot in the slot.
Sanders, USC’s leading returning receiver from last season, has 25 catches for 285 yards and five touchdowns this season. Ellington has 28 catches for 470 yards and four touchdowns, including six for 101 against Tennessee and five for 104 against Arkansas.
Spurrier said Ellington’s increased production lately isn’t related to the position switch.
“It just happened that way,” he said. “I don’t know. Ace has had some balls (thrown to him). He’s had some tough luck the last two games. We had that sort of takeoff route that was overthrown against Tennessee and barely underthrown against Arkansas.”
If the Gamecocks beat Wofford, they will improve their home record since the beginning of 2009 to 25-3. USC is 13-3 in that span against Southeastern Conference opponents and 6-2 against ranked opponents.
A win over Wofford would also extend USC’s home winning streak to 11 games, the third-longest in school history. USC won 13 straight at home from 1986-88 and 15 straight from 1978-80.
Spurrier is 46-0 in his career against schools from outside the big six Bowl Subdivision conferences, including 20-0 at USC. USC has won 14 straight non-conference games dating to a 2008 loss to Clemson.