COLUMBIA — First, South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier handed out compliments, then he confused names.
Celebrating a consecutive 11-win season, Spurrier and the Gamecocks were honored at halftime of the men’s basketball game against Vanderbilt. He started by saying this year’s team was “a little bit better” than the 2011 team, though he said it had fallen short of the ultimate goal of winning the SEC championship.
Spurrier referred to quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson as the “best tandem of quarterbacks on the same team in college football” when addressing the crowd. But as he was introducing the team standing behind him, he mistakenly referenced tailback Mike Davis as “Steven Davis.”
With several recruits and “future Gamecocks” in attendance, Spurrier said he hopes USC will claim its first SEC championship “in the near future,” but the Gamecocks will have to do so without wide receiver Ace Sanders, who decided to forgo his senior year and enter the NFL draft.
Sanders initially announced on his Instagram that he would be returning for his senior year, but on Tuesday night, he hinted strongly on his Twitter that he changed his mind, receiving congratulations from teammates about his decision. He and tailback Marcus Lattimore were the only USC juniors to declare early for the draft.
Meeting with reporters after the halftime presentation, Spurrier said he wasn’t “too blindsided” by Sanders’ decision, and it didn’t matter if Sanders had told him initially that he as returning for his senior year.
“Ace had an exceptional game in the Outback Bowl,” Spurrier said. “He felt like maybe it was just time, that he was as hot as he was going to be. Who knows? We’re all for Ace, and we wish him the best.”
Getting the loudest ovation from the basketball crowd was defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who will almost certainly leave early for the NFL after next season. Spurrier said his plan is to keep Clowney exclusively on defense and not to give him offensive snaps to raise his potential Heisman profile.
Shaw was also in attendance, though he was on crutches after a recent surgery for a foot injury that plagued him throughout the season. Spurrier said Shaw’s surgery would be a “four- to six-month deal” that will give the majority of the snaps to Thompson, true freshman Connor Mitch and redshirt freshman Brendan Nosovitch in the spring. Mitch is one of three early enrollees and will probably be redshirted this season, Spurrier said.
Spurrier isn’t sure how “the best tandem of quarterbacks” will work next season, expecting it to work itself out through fall practice.
“Obviously, Dylan has proven he needs to play and so has Connor,” Spurrier said. “I mean, we’ve got two good ones.”