COLUMBIA – South Carolina’s coaches said throughout preseason practices that they felt confident in backup quarterback Dylan Thompson’s ability to lead the offense. The notion appeared somewhat flimsy when Thompson was pressed into duty in the Gamecocks’ season opener, but Thompson did all he could to prove his coaches right Saturday.
Despite not having junior starting quarterback Connor Shaw, ninth-ranked South Carolina rolled over East Carolina 48-10 in its home opener.
Shaw bruised his right (throwing) shoulder in last week’s 17-13 season opener at Vanderbilt and did not play Saturday. Thompson, a sophomore, started for the first time, and he made the most of his opportunity by essentially ending the game in the first half.
USC led 21-0 at halftime, as Thompson completed 14 of 23 passes for 216 yards and touchdown passes of seven and 30 yards. He finished 21-of-37 for 330 yards and three touchdowns.
The Gamecocks (2-0) out-gained the Pirates (1-1) 304-193 in the first half. The Pirates’ defense has struggled mightily at times under third-year coach Ruffin McNeill, but Saturday’s first half was dismal even by their standards
Before replacing Shaw at Vanderbilt – though Shaw did return – Thompson’s career experience amounted to four games in mop-up duty last season as a redshirt freshman. He completed 2 of 2 passes for 17 yards.
At Vanderbilt, he was 0-of-3 passing. Before Shaw came back, Thompson was in for the first two drives of the second half, both of which went three plays and out, and resulted in minus-12 and minus-2 yards.
As Thompson diced East Carolina’s shoddy defense in the first half Saturday, the Pirates’ up-tempo, spread-the-field offense did little to help their cause, despite a respectable yardage total.
Already down 21-0, they turned the ball over on three consecutive drives in the second quarter, botching legitimate scoring chances on the first two.
They got to USC’s 35 before Rio Johnson threw an interception. They reached USC’s 14-yard line on a pass that would have resulted in a first down, but they immediately fumbled the ball away. On the third drive, they managed to run just two error-free plays before Johnson threw another pick, from his own 34.
USC coach Steve Spurrier said on his radio show Thursday that USC’s trainers were optimistic about Shaw being able to play, but the coaches were still preparing Thompson to play. Spurrier said that involved trying to boost Thompson’s confidence after his disastrous showing at Vanderbilt. Shaw did not practice until Wednesday. He participated on a limited basis on Wednesday and Thursday.
USC hosts Alabama-Birmingham next Saturday at 7 p.m.