Quarterback Dylan Thompson came off the bench to give the Gamecocks a spark against Central Florida.
Connor Shaw is out, Dylan Thompson is in and South Carolina's offense will be radically different moving forward with the change at quarterback.
Shaw, the Gamecocks' senior starter, is out at least two to three weeks with what has initially been diagnosed as a sprained right shoulder suffered Saturday against Central Florida. He injured the same shoulder last season.
His stats through four games for the 3-1 Gamecocks have been solid, if not exemplary.
Shaw completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 665 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions. He is the Gamecocks' second-leading rusher with 51 carries for 252 yards, an average of 4.1 yards per carry and 58 yards per game.
It's those rushing numbers that will be missed as the Gamecocks shift away from the shotgun formation and zone-read offense under Shaw to more of an I formation, tailback-oriented attack under Thompson.
Thompson has been solid this season in what has been—until Saturday—limited playing time.
After taking over for Shaw, who went down late in the first quarter with the Gamecocks trailing 10-0, Thompson led South Carolina on four consecutive touchdown drives, all in the second half, in what would become a 28-25 victory.
So far this season, Thompson has completed 23 of 42 passes (54.7 percent) for 365 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He has rushed nine times for 23 yards and two touchdowns.
If the injury assessment on Shaw is correct, Thompson will be the starting quarterback this weekend when the Gamecocks play host to Kentucky, followed by a road game at Arkansas and possibly at Tennessee the next weekend.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier was hardly surprised at Thompson's performance against UCF.
"Dylan was ready to play," Spurrier said. "He's always ready to play. No big deal if he starts or doesn't start. But he'll probably be extra excited knowing he's going to be the starter this week."
A 6'3", 218-pound junior, Thompson proved his worth last season, most notably in a start at arch-rival Clemson in South Carolina's final regular-season game.
Playing in the most hostile environment possible for a Gamecocks quarterback, Thompson completed 23 of 41 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns in South Carolina's 27-17 victory.
He followed that effort by splitting time with Shaw in the Gamecocks' 33-28 Outback Bowl victory over Michigan, completing seven of 10 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns—including a game-winning 32-yard scoring pass to Bruce Ellington with 11 seconds to play.
The Gamecocks can turn to Thompson knowing they have a battle-tested and proven leader at quarterback.
In some respects, the shift to Thompson at quarterback will play to the Gamecocks' strengths—a big, experienced offensive line and the Gamecocks' best weapon so far, tailback Mike Davis.
Davis has rushed for 508 yards and six touchdowns on 71 carries.
Now he finds himself running downhill behind an extra blocker in fullback Connor McLaurin, who earned a game ball for his blocking efforts against UCF.
The switch to the I formation also plays to the strengths of Thompson, who throws a better deep ball than Shaw and who should be especially effective in play action with the threat of Davis at tailback.
It's hard to argue that South Carolina will be a better team with Thompson at quarterback. Through four games, the Gamecocks are averaging 482.2 yards in total offense, their best start since South Carolina began keeping that statistic in 1962.
In addition, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is a shrewd assessor of his available talent, especially when it comes to quarterbacks.
However, the shift to Thompson will prove an interesting and different alternative to Shaw as the Gamecocks gradually move into the teeth of their Southeastern Conference schedule.
Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes obtained first hand.