Although some might say otherwise, fans of South Carolina football collectively held their breath when it was announced one hour before the game that Dylan Thompson would start in place of Connor Shaw against rival Clemson last weekend.
And yet, the sophomore Thompson defied and exceeded expectations, leading the Gamecocks to their fourth win over Clemson in a row. Now with a yet-to-be-determined bowl game roughly a month away, talk will inevitably begin to surround whether Thompson or Shaw should start for the Gamecocks.
Coach Steve Spurrier said Shaw should be ready for the bowl game following the Gamecocks' victory over Clemson on Saturday, and the fact is that Shaw should be the starter in whatever bowl game the Gamecocks officially draw.
Undoubtedly, Thompson has the better deep-ball throw, as we have all seen throughout 2012. His debut start against ECU saw him complete 21 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns and finish with a 158.4 rating.
Shaw might be more the of dink-and-dunk quarterback that excels at getting the ball to his tight ends and checkdown receivers, but he has demonstrated a sustained efficiency throughout the season, completing 67 percent of his passes, including a 20-of-21 performance against Missouri back in September.
Running the ball, though, is where Shaw ultimately benefits the Gamecocks the most, especially with Marcus Lattimore out of the lineup.
In 10 games, he has 339 yards and three touchdowns, which on paper might not raise eyebrows, but on the field keeps defenses honest with another threat to take into account.
Now, let’s take a step back from stats and all of that mess.
Shaw has not had a perfect 2012 by way of his wayward performances against top-10 opponents LSU and Florida. In fact, he played so woefully against the Gators that he was pulled after the first half in lieu of Thompson.
But in the wake of adverse circumstances, Shaw has stepped up multiple times, demonstrating a high degree of mettle and exceeding leadership when it has been needed.
Against Vanderbilt on the road with a shoulder bruise in his throwing shoulder, Shaw played through considerable pain and continued to be fearless running the ball, and he ultimately led the Gamecocks to a tough 17-13 win in Week 1.
Following the tragic, season-ending injury that befell Lattimore against Tennessee on October 27th, Shaw stepped up and had his two best yardage performances of the season against the Volunteers and the following week against Arkansas (356 and 272 yards, respectively).
If you had told me this bowl game was being played this week or next week, depending on how Shaw’s foot injury had healed, I would lean toward Thompson being the starter.
It’s the “hot hand” principle that has been the hot keyword of the quarterback debate for the San Francisco 49ers for the past couple of weeks. But in the context of the South Carolina Gamecocks, there’s a month of holidays and practice before they will play their final game of the season.
Shaw’s foot has plenty of time to heal, and as we looked at earlier, Spurrier is putting at least a preliminary endorsement for Shaw to be the starter in the bowl game.
Next season will be a whole different monster to tackle in terms of who will start for South Carolina or who should start, but for this game, for this finale of the 2012 season, Connor Shaw needs to be the guy that leads the Gamecocks on the field.
But don’t put it past the Ol’ Ball Coach to “make a change” if things start to go south come New Year’s Day.