Dylan Thompson had already given South Carolina football fans plenty to talk about before the Gamecocks went to Death Valley to play in-state rival Clemson.
He then happened to start and lead the Gamecocks to their fourth victory in a row over the Tigers by a score of 27-17.
Steve Spurrier has already stated that Thompson will likely share time with junior Connor Shaw as the Gamecocks’ quarterback against Michigan in the Outback Bowl, New Year’s Day, but there’s an argument to be made that Thompson should assume the starting role outright come next season.
Now, in all fairness to the people who visit Bleacher Report, yes, I just wrote last week that Connor Shaw should be the starter for South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, and I have argued in the past that Shaw should begin 2013 as the starter as well.
But for the sake of argument, I’m game to play devil’s advocate and give six reasons why Dylan Thompson should be the Gamecocks’ starter for the 2013 season.
Coming into the Clemson game, there were questions about Dylan Thompson’s ability to get rid of the football when he needed to and avoid costly sacks. No doubt one of Connor Shaw’s greatest attributes is his speed and ability to escape and move the ball downfield with his legs.
But then came a third down play against Clemson in the second quarter when Thompson pulled down the rock and scampered to an impressive 19-yard gain to keep the drive alive, which eventually led to a Gamecocks field goal.
Then in the fourth quarter with the Gamecocks holding onto a 20-17 lead and again facing a third and long deep inside Clemson territory, Thompson scampered to a 20-yard gain to keep alive the drive that sealed the game for South Carolina.
There is no doubt that if Shaw has any distinct advantage in terms of quarterback skill set, it is in being able to run with the football, but Thompson’s effort against Clemson shows that the kid can get yards on his own when needed.
Steve Spurrier probably wouldn’t run as many veer option plays as he would with Shaw, but Thompson’s key plays against Clemson show he is definitely no statue in the pocket and can keep the chains moving on his own if needed.
It certainly adds a nice wrinkle to his game to compliment his big arm.
It’s one thing to throw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns against a Conference USA team at home. It’s another when you can put up the same numbers against your ranked in-state rival on the road.
That’s not to take away from Dylan Thompson’s impressive debut against East Carolina where he threw for three touchdowns as well, but a performance like Thompson had against Clemson gives him the kind of big game seasoning to be a full-time starter.
Hey, say what you will against Clemson’s defense, but it was a still a No. 11 opponent who had not lost at home in 14 games.
The Tigers were seething at the opportunity to tee off on a sophomore who had only one start under his belt. But Thompson shirked the pressure with the poise of someone who looked to be starting all season.
It was certainly a redeeming performance from Thompson’s second half thud against Florida where he was pressed into the game, replacing an inefficient Connor Shaw in the Swamp.
Down 21-6 and not having taken many snaps during the week, even Thompson admitted that he never got comfortable until the end of the game when the score was clearly out of reach for South Carolina.
Thompson has one more opportunity this year to show his poise in a big game situation when the Gamecocks face the Michigan in the Outback Bowl, and the Wolverines roll into Tampa ranked second in FBS against the pass.
Certainly a repeat of his performance in Death Valley will strengthen the case for Thompson to be the starter for the 2013 season.
Yes, you can definitely roll that into poise from the previous slide, but in this case I’m looking at Thompson’s ability to rebound play to play.
Going back to that first start against ECU, Thompson’s first couple of passes looked woeful and badly off target. But then two drives later, he rolled off four completions in a row, including three of 15 yards or more, and the final being a seven yard touchdown pass.
From that point on, Thompson was in business and never looked back against the Pirates.
Even when Thompson has taken a sack he probably could have avoided or put a pass where he probably shouldn’t have, he’s shown an incredible resilience and unflappable mentality to pick himself up and take a shot downfield again.
That unflappable trait along with a thick skin is certainly needed with The Ol’ Ball Coach’s ability to get on his quarterbacks for mistakes in games.
But bottom line, Thompson being able to get back on the horse even when he’s been thrown off and ride strong is a trait the Gamecocks need in 2013 and sorely lacked in the two games against LSU and Florida this season.
When Connor Shaw was injured in the first game against Vanderbilt and Dylan Thompson was announced as the starter for East Carolina, there was a justifiable wave of uncertainly based on his 0-for-3 performance in relief of Shaw against the Commodores.
But as Daryl Slater of The Post and Courier wrote back in September, “Thompson’s wide receivers, tight ends and a couple offensive linemen came to his room and told him ‘We’ve got your back.’”
It’s a small example, probably redundant and clichéd to some because you would expect players to be behind their quarterback, no matter who it is.
But in the reality of football today with quarterback controversies constantly abound and players making comments to the media about who they prefer over the other, it was a refreshing moment for Thompson ahead of his first career start against the Pirates.
Beyond the East Carolina performance, Thompson’s contagious excitement on the field and ability to get play makers and role players involved throughout the game has elevated Thompson’s reverence among his Gamecock teammates.
Take an example from the Clemson game. Yes, Thompson got Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington involved, who combined for Thompson’s three touchdown passes. But how about Nick Jones?
I’ll admit in the trappings of copious amounts of bourbon, I pulled a Verne Lundquist from Happy Gilmore when Thompson kept targeting Jones against Clemson and proclaimed “Who the hell is Nick Jones?”
There was good reason. The 36-yard completion against Missouri was a distant memory as it was his only catch of the game in the second quarter and one of only five he had coming into the Clemson game.
Against the Tigers, Thompson found Jones four times for 45 yards, including a 31-yarder that helped set up a lead-taking touchdown.
What it means is that Thompson’s ability to get the ball to anyone regardless of where they are on the depth chart (or where they are downfield) is something that will only bolster the confidence his teammates have in him no matter who South Carolina is matching up against (especially when they go on the road to Athens next season to face Georgia).
And it doesn’t hurt when you’re a sophomore who is able to get a senior class their career sweep of their in-state rival either.
If there is one singular attribute that Dylan Thompson has that can separate him from Connor Shaw and earn the starting position for 2013, it is his ability to throw the deep ball.
In fact, that is what had Gamecock fans so excited about the future following the game against East Carolina, where Thompson totaled 330 yards, averaging 16 yards a completion, including a long of 53 yards.
The next week against UAB, he filled in for Shaw again, this time in the second half, where he only completed five passes, but had a 94 yard strike to Damiere Byrd that became the fourth longest play in South Carolina history.
Including his performance against Clemson, Thompson has given South Carolina its best deep ball threat in years along with its best pocket passing threat.
With Ace Sanders more than likely returning for his senior season and depending on Bruce Ellington’s situation with basketball, South Carolina will have its two best playmakers at receiver coming back for 2013, and Steve Spurrier will need a dominant, dependable passing threat as the running game reorganizes around Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds.
When South Carolina struggled this season against LSU and Florida, the running game became bottled up, and Shaw wasn’t able to compensate in the passing game.
Marcus Lattimore is lost for the 2013 season and might not ever don a Gamecocks jersey again (which would be a shame considering what a treat it would be to see Thompson run the offense with his former high school teammate for his senior season), and with that running game reorganizing, Thompson’s presence in the pocket and threat downfield will keep defenses honest.
And also benefiting the Gamecocks in having Thompson start next year as a more dominant pocket passer is the fact that with the exception of Center T.J. Johnson, the rest of the offensive line should be returning which with a built-in chemistry already will give South Carolina stability in being able to move the football and protect the quarterback.
To really sum it all up for Dylan Thompson and the aforementioned ability to run the football (when needed), his big game seasoning, ability to rebound, respect with teammates, and deep ball threat, the final reason the Gamecocks should start Dylan Thompson for 2013 should be “Why wait?”
Seriously. This kid has shown in two starts with a bowl game still yet to be played that he has all of the skills to be something South Carolina has lacked for years and could provide a dynamic the Gamecocks need to ascend to the summit of being SEC Champions.
It is no disrespect to the career of Connor Shaw, who came in and finished a 2011 season that became maligned with Stephen Garcia drama and had a huge hand in leading the Gamecocks to back-to-back 10-win seasons (with the possibility of back-to-back 11 on the line against Michigan).
But college football is a win-now league with a small window of success for programs.
With only another year, at most, with Ace Sanders and Jadeveon Clowney (on defense), South Carolina is poised to go to new heights next year, and keeping Thompson on the sidelines out of respect to Shaw’s status as a returning senior, is a disservice to what the Gamecocks are capable of next year.
Connor Shaw could very well get the Gamecocks there too, and again its no disrespect to him as I have admired his grit against pain this season along with his incredible pass efficiency in being South Carolina’s starter.
But next year represents a season of increased expectations. The Connor Shaw run has seen South Carolina get to the Capital-One and Outback bowls, which although are respectable bowls, are outside of the BCS, where Spurrier ultimately wants to take this program.
There needs to be a dynamic change.
Dylan Thompson has two more years and a hell of an upside to his game. Why would you want to put him on ice for a year and play him only sparingly before finally letting him take the reigns for good in 2014?
Open the bomber bay doors and turn him loose.