COLUMBIA — Unsurprisingly, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Wednesday that the status of quarterback Connor Shaw for Saturday’s home opener against East Carolina would be a game-time decision. Shaw bruised his right (throwing) shoulder in last Thursday’s 17-13 season-opening win at Vanderbilt.
As of Wednesday morning, Spurrier said Shaw “hasn’t done anything all week yet” in practice. Spurrier planned to have Shaw throw Wednesday and today. If he can do that and is cleared by USC’s doctors, he will play against East Carolina, Spurrier said.
Shaw did practice Wednesday but did not speak with reporters afterward. As he left the practice field, he said he felt “good” and offered a thumbs-up.
“Connor is very optimistic,” said center T.J. Johnson, one of Shaw’s closest friends. “He seems to be doing well, but everything is still day to day, so we don’t know what’s going to happen. I felt like he looked like Connor (in Wednesday’s practice).”
Spurrier said Shaw’s replacement would be Dylan Thompson. He could still play even if Shaw is cleared and starts, if USC gains a large lead. Shaw’s injury is not to his shoulder joint, so he will not cause structural damage by playing. It’s just matter of his pain level, Spurrier said.
“He thinks he’ll be ready by game time,” Spurrier said. “We’ll take (the decision) all the way up until game time.”
Thompson struggled at Vanderbilt after Shaw got hurt. Before that game, his career experience totaled four mop-up duty appearances last season as a redshirt freshman.
“We’re trying to get his confidence up,” Spurrier said. “It’s a struggle getting his confidence up. But he works at it. He works hard, sometimes maybe works too hard. (We) try and loosen him up a little bit. He tries too hard. But he’s really a good passer when he does things the right way.”
USC began this week rotating Mike Matulis and Brandon Shell at left tackle, Spurrier said. Shell, a redshirt freshman from Goose Creek High, sprained his ankle in practice before the Vanderbilt game, in which his performance was spotty.
Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott said Shell was benched at Vanderbilt solely due to a lack of performance and not fatigue, but Elliott remains hopeful about Shell’s potential.
At Vanderbilt, Matulis was the starting right tackle, Shell the starting left tackle. When Shell came out, Matulis moved to the left side, where he started one game last season. Backup right tackle Cody Gibson replaced Matulis on the right side.
Elliott said Shell’s ankle is fine and he will be ready for Saturday. The coaches know Shell — USC’s least experienced new starter, at a challenging position — will go through hiccups. But Spurrier wants to get a thorough game look at more tackles.
“I think we need to play a whole bunch of people,” he said. “We need to give a lot of guys chances. The game kind of got so tight last week we didn’t have the opportunity to hardly play anybody, sort of stick with the guys you think are your first teamers.”
Gibson started four games at right tackle last season before being replaced by Matulis for the final four. Gibson’s final three starts were on the road, which he believes served him well during his replacement duty at Vanderbilt.
“I definitely got used to being on the road and dealing with crowds and noise and staying focused under that,” he said. “That’s why in the Vanderbilt game, I could come in there and stay composed and just play a good game.”
South Carolina on Saturday will debut a manicured tailgating area in the spot across Bluff Road from Williams-Brice Stadium that was once occupied by a farmers market. That obviously won’t distract Gibson during the game, but he will notice USC’s other new game-day amenity — the 124-by-36 video board inside the stadium that might just test players’
“It might be a distraction at first, but I’ll make sure to stay away from looking at it,” Gibson said. “But yeah, it’s going to be pretty cool.”