COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s quarterback situation for 2013 got a bit more interesting Thursday night when an athletic department spokesman said Connor Shaw will undergo left foot surgery today and will likely will miss spring practices.
Already, many observers wondered about how South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier, who coordinates the offense, would handle his quarterbacks in 2013.
In Tuesday’s Outback Bowl, backup Dylan Thompson relieved Shaw for the final five plays, after Shaw limped to the sideline. Thompson clinched a 33-28 victory with a 32-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Bruce Ellington with 11 seconds remaining. It will go down as one of the most iconic plays in USC football history.
Moreover, Thompson played the entire Clemson game in place of the injured Shaw and led the Gamecocks’ to their fourth consecutive victory over the Tigers — something that hadn’t happened since 1951-54. Regardless of what happens in the rest of Thompson’s career, his spot in the hearts of USC fans is secure.
But Shaw has been the Gamecocks’ starter since the sixth game of 2011, after he replaced the talented but erratic Stephen Garcia. Shaw, a high school coach’s son, brings an even-keeled presence and significant scrambling ability.
Shaw, who played well for most of 2012, will be a senior in 2013, Thompson a junior. Will the success of both players in 2012 force Spurrier to at least consider playing two quarterbacks this fall? After the bowl game, Spurrier said only that he would “go through the spring” and have competition between the two players.
With Shaw’s spring competition with Thompson seemingly finished before it started, Spurrier’s plan for 2013 probably won’t be known until at least August. USC’s only other scholarship quarterbacks in the spring will be Brendan Nosovitch and Connor Mitch. Nosovitch redshirted as a freshman in 2012 and Mitch is an incoming freshman who is enrolling early.
USC team doctor Jeff Guy said Thursday that he would have more information today about Shaw’s foot. Shaw’s path to the operating table began Oct. 27, when he sprained his foot against Tennessee. He played the next two games, against Arkansas and Wofford, but aggravated his foot at the end of the Wofford game and was forced to the sideline at Clemson.
He had more than a month to recover before the bowl game, and Spurrier proclaimed him 100 percent healthy leading into the game. But Spurrier said Thompson earned the right to play at least some, by throwing for 310 yards and three touchdowns against Clemson.
Moreover, Spurrier and Thompson knew Shaw’s foot could be easy reinjured. That’s exactly what happened on USC’s final drive, after Shaw led the Gamecocks from their 30-yard line to Michigan’s 43.
Before those final five plays, Thompson played seven snaps against the Wolverines. In addition to the Clemson game, he played the second halves against Florida on Oct. 20 and UAB on Sept. 15. He played the entire East Carolina game on Sept. 8 because Shaw injured his right (throwing) shoulder in the previous game at Vanderbilt.
Shaw’s absence for the spring complicates matters for Spurrier because both Shaw and Thompson played well against Michigan and for most of the season.
Shaw threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns against Michigan. He ran for 96 yards. For the season, he completed 67.5 percent of his passes (No. 12 nationally) for 1,956 yards, 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Thompson threw for 117 yards and two touchdowns in the bowl. His season numbers: 52 percent, 1,027 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. Not shabby, considering Thompson had one other footballs scholarship offer, from Division II Newberry, and he threw just two passes while appearing in four games as a redshirt freshman in 2011.
For all the uncertainty about USC’s quarterback plan in 2013, one thing seems clear: Spurrier has two proven winners at the position, for a team coming off back-to-back 11-2 seasons — the best in school history. Spurrier won with two quarterbacks at Florida, as he enjoyed a golden age of football at his alma mater. Might he do it again now, as he finds himself in a similar era of unprecedented success at USC?