South Carolina Can Go Far With Either Quarterback

By Zach Virnig
South Carolina Football, SEC Football
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Any South Carolina Gamecocks fan that was rocking at Williams-Brice Stadium last night witnessed a series of interesting storylines from the home team’s 27-10 win over North Carolina.

The game was supposed to be the igniting of defensive end Jadeveon Clowney’s Heisman campaign, but it didn’t go very well. South Carolina’s undisciplined and unconditioned defense was a cause for a surprise in this tilt in Week 1, but if you dig a little deeper, you will find that the quarterback situation for Steve Spurrier is the best in the SEC, if not the best in the country.

Starter Connor Shaw and backup quarterback Dylan Thompson both threw touchdowns passes right out of the stables in the first quarter against the Tar Heels defense. On just the third play of the season, Shaw went right down the pipe to the 2012 South Carolina Mr. Football, Shaq Roland, for his longest touchdown pass in his career, a 65-yarder.

Meanwhile, Thompson unleashed a 29-yarder to former Arkansas wide reciever Kane Whitehurst with under a minute to go in the first quarter, the only pass of the night for Thompson. The two touchdown passes and running back Mike Davis’ 75-yard scamper were the only scores for South Carolina’s offense. Both quarterbacks combined for 178 yards. Shaw collected 149 yards to go along with his 33rd career touchdown pass as a Gamecock.

Shaw is the undisputed leader and starter, but at the same time, there’s much to question about his overall effectiveness as a signal-caller. After dealing with an injured foot and shoulder last year, injuries that contributed to Thompson’s time as the Gamecocks quarterback.

Thompson competed in 11 out of Carolina’s 13 games in 2012, including two games as Shaw’s replacement starter. Thompson’s trust from fans goes back in the last game at the Outback Bowl. His game-winning strike to the incredible Bruce Ellington in the game capped out another fantastic campaign there in Columbia. Shaw’s 17 TD connections  created one of the school’s better season performances.

Without Thompson’s  10 touchdown passes, Carolina doesn’t get to their second straight 11-win season.

Shaw has held down the fort since replacing Stephen Garcia as Spurrier’s quarterback, going 17-3 as a starter. Two years ago, nobody would have said Shaw would sit seventh in school history with 33 touchdown passes.

Shaw can get you to Atlanta, but will that be enough for Carolina to feel confident in December? I think not, so Carolina should keep him out if necessary in meaningless games; you’re not losing anything because both quarterbacks are proven winners.

The offense runs best with that hybrid approach, even if Shaw is healthier than anticipated. Shaw is great with those quarterback draws alone in the backfield, while Thompson has shown to be a confident pocket passer, having only 14 rushing attempts in his two seasons.

Thompson threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns in each of his two starts. He started in Week 2 at home against East Carolina.

The question remains, what will be the playing status for Thompson next Saturday against Georgia, after not fielding a snap in last year’s 35-7 rout last season? If Carolina’s defense is unable to hold the Georgia offense to 17 points or less like they did to teams seven times last year, will we  see Thompson on passing downs?

Carolina with Shaw was ineffective on third down last night, failing to convert nine times.

South Carolina is built to excel in Thompson’s style of game. Seven different guys made a catch last night with 178 passing yards between them. South Carolina’s two losses were against top-12 defenses last season, Florida and LSU. Shaw completed just over half his passes on 249 total yards.

Zach Virnig is a SEC Writer for Follow him on Twitter, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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