COLUMBIA - Remember the Fun-n-Gun?
Of course you do -- that was the high-flying offense Steve Spurrier oversaw to such lethal effect during his heyday at Florida, and South Carolina was often among the victims left staring at a lopsided scoreboard at the end. While no one is claiming the Fun-n-Gun is coming to Columbia, the Gamecocks' new starting quarterback would at least appear to give the Head Ball Coach a chance to return to his pass-first, ask-questions-later ways.
Connor Shaw's place in Gamecock lore is secure for as long as people wear garnet and black. By going undefeated at home, in bowl games, and against Clemson as the starter behind center, perhaps no single player has had a larger role in this three-year run South Carolina has enjoyed. But if Shaw had one limitation - and granted, that's probably an unfair term to use, given how effective he was -- it might have been his tendency to abandon his progressions and rely on his feet deep into the play.
Now, most of the time that still worked out brilliantly, given that Shaw rushed for more yards than any quarterback in school history. But it also made him more susceptible to injury, which allowed Dylan Thompson to see plenty of live action -- all of which should pay dividends when the senior from Boiling Springs takes command of the ninth-ranked Gamecocks as starter beginning Thursday night against No. 21 Texas A&M.
Thompson and Shaw are two very different brands of quarterback, which allowed South Carolina to vex opponents by occasionally shuffling them in and out to change the pace. But now this is Thompson's team, and there's no clear backup at the moment, and no run-first quarterback ready to come in at the goal line or in some other short-yardage situation. And while the Gamecocks' offensive scheme remains intact - "Nothing has changed," senior wideout Nick Jones said - the types of plays just might.
"With Dylan, there's going to be more passing," Jones added. All along that's been the natural assumption, given that the 6-3, 218-pound Thompson isn't nearly as fleet of foot as the 6-1, 206-pound Shaw. Without much of a scrambling safety net, Thompson tends to look to his second and third options more than Shaw, who was more apt to tuck the ball and run if the opening presented itself. Now, that's not to shortchange Shaw as a passer - fourth-and-17 against Missouri, anyone? - but to illustrate the differences in both mindsets and skill sets in the Gamecocks' past and present starting QBs.
Shaw last season never attempted more than 29 pass attempts in a single game, those highs coming against Vanderbilt, and in the career-defining comeback and OT victory at Faurot Field. Thompson, meanwhile, flung it 32 times in relief of Shaw last season at Central Florida, and in two 2012 starts aired it out 37 times against East Carolina and 41 times against Clemson. There's nothing to indicate that pace will slow now that Thompson is the full-time starter, particularly given that he fits the model of the quarterback Spurrier has preferred for most of his collegiate coaching career. And let's remember, many of those great Florida teams also featured powerful running backs in the Mike Davis mold.
So while it won't exactly be the Fun-n-Gun - Danny Wuerffel isn't walking through that door, at least not yet - Thompson would seem to give Spurrier more of an opportunity to be his classic play-calling self. And if the new starting QB absolutely has to scramble?
"Dylan knows how to protect himself," quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus said. "He's done that. He's a pretty good runner, when he's got to go do that. He's smart, and knows how to get himself down and not take big hits."
Other items of note:
-- Thompson's offensive line has needed to be reworked a bit due to the knee injury suffered by starting right guard Mike Matulis, likely to miss at least half the season. To fill that void, Cody Waldrop has been moved from center, where he apparently had some issues snapping the ball. Right guard, meanwhile, "is my natural position, the position I played in high school," the sophomore said. "I'm ready for it, I love it."
That means center likely comes down to sophomore Clayton Stadnik or junior Will Sport. But watch out for redshirt freshman Alan Knott, who missed most of preseason camp with a knee injury, but according to offensive line coach Shawn Elliott has made rapid progress since returning.
"If he'd have been here in camp, I don't know if the other guys would be vying for the spot, to tell you the truth," Elliott said. "His snaps have been perfect. His assignments have got to be a little bit crisper. But I would have liked to have seen him be here for the 29 or 30 practices that we've had, or whatever we've been out there. But he's done a heck of a job. We've got to find a way to get him on the field. He's going to work his way in there somewhere."
-- Spurrier stands on the brink of a notable personal landmark, given that he has 199 career wins in the SEC entering Thursday's opener against the Aggies. A victory would make him just the third league coach to get to 200 - something his players didn't seem aware of. "I knew he was the winningest coach here," left guard A.J. Cann said, "but I didn't know anything about that."
That 200th league win would pull Spurrier to within one victory of Vince Dooley, who currently stands second at 201. "That would mean a lot to me, knowing that I helped him achieve that," Cann said of the 200-victory plateau. And after that, just 92 more wins to catch the Bear!
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