COLUMBIA — Steve Spurrier watched his quarterback take a game-ending hit to his throwing shoulder Saturday, saw the pain in Connor Shaw’s grimace, and thought the worst.
One drive into Saturday’s game at Central Florida, South Carolina’s coach wondered if he’d lost his senior starting quarterback permanently. When Shaw returned to the sideline after fumbling the football, there were tense moments.
“It looked like he was out for the season, maybe,” Spurrier said.
Originally, Shaw was expected to miss at least two weeks, maybe three. Shaw, who has a right shoulder sprain, proved USC’s trainers wrong.
After practice Monday night, Shaw picked up a football and chucked it downfield, high and spiraling through the air like he had a healthy shoulder. Fans across the country got to see The Hit last season, when Jadeveon Clowney trucked Michigan running back Vincent Smith. Only Shaw’s teammates and coaches saw The Throw, which may have been equally impressive. Running back Mike Davis immediately turned to his Twitter page.
“Connor Shaw is the toughest football player I have ever been around,” Davis tweeted.
Spurrier had planned for backup quarterback Dylan Thompson to start Saturday night against Kentucky. Now, the plan is up in the air. Spurrier said Shaw “should be ready to play this week,” but he stopped short of naming him the starter.
“The trainer had him out two to three weeks. Yesterday, he threw a ball 60 yards,” Spurrier said. “So, I don’t know. You need to ask the trainer how he made such a miraculous recovery. It wasn’t 60, but it was about 55, I would say.”
For Thompson, it’s a familiar position of “wait and see.” The backup said all the right things Tuesday, making sure he stayed politically correct. Thompson said he expects “the same scenario as always.” Just be ready to play, whenever his name is called.
Last week, Thompson knew he’d play in the first half. He had no idea he’d be the quarterback on every possession except the first. Thompson had to adapt mentally, realizing the game had become his in the blink of one play.
It’s a similar situation this week. Thompson said he’ll approach it the same as every game.
“Fortunately, I’ve been in the situation last year a few times,” Thompson said. “You’ve just got to prepare. I’ve been watching a lot of tape of Kentucky. They’re a good team, a good defense. I’ll just trust my coaches. Coach (G.A.) Mangus and coach Spurrier, they’ll have me prepared.”
Spurrier said he’d like to make his decision on USC’s starting quarterback by Thursday. If Shaw is able to play the full game, he’ll have every opportunity to start.
Over the course of his career, Shaw has earned Spurrier’s trust. The throw with an injured shoulder Monday night was just the latest example of Shaw’s toughness. It’s an attribute Spurrier wants to have on the field at USC’s quarterback position.
“Who knows the pain factor? Nobody knows,” Spurrier said. “So you just sort of guess that. But Connor is a very tough kid who wants to play, and he should be ready to play this week. He’s played very well for us. His record speaks for itself, percentage-wise the winningest quarterback. Even better than Tommy Suggs and Todd Ellis. So you’ve got to say he’s really played well.”