If the top criteria for the Heisman Trophy were mental and physical toughness, the nation may already have a winner.
Until further notice, let South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw's performance at Missouri Saturday night stand as Exhibit A.
Nursing a sprained knee, Shaw came off the bench to lead the No. 21 Gamecocks from a 17-0 fourth-quarter deficit to a 27-24 victory in two overtimes over the previously unbeaten and No. 5-ranked Tigers, igniting a flame under South Carolina's previously flickering SEC East title hopes.
"We stunk it up until the fourth quarter," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier told ESPN field reporter Maria Taylor moments after the game. "I guess we tied it up and got it into overtimes somehow. I guess it was meant to be. I guess the good Lord was smiling on the Gamecocks. We didn't play very well but Connor Shaw brought us back. Guys made some catches. I don't know how it happened."
Forgive Spurrier for being a little hazy on the details. In a game that crawled along at a snail's pace for three quarters, the ending was a fast-forward blur.
With Dylan Thompson getting the start at quarterback ahead of Shaw, the Gamecocks moved the football but were their own worst enemy.
South Carolina turned the ball over three times in the first half, twice in scoring position on fumbles by tailback Mike Davis, the SEC's leading rusher.
Davis' second fumble came at the 2-yard line. Three plays later, Missouri scored on a 96-yard pass play to lead 14-0 and eventually took a 17-0 halftime lead.
Shaw, who injured the knee last week against Tennessee, had been cleared medically to play, but the Gamecocks had decided to err on the side of caution by going with Thompson, a battle-tested quarterback who led South Carolina to victory at Clemson last season.
It simply wasn't Thompson's night, and when the Gamecocks finally turned to Shaw with 6:46 to play in the third quarter, it looked more like a move of desperation than inspiration.
"We had to put him in," Spurrier told Taylor. "Dylan was sort of overthrowing. But Connor said he could play. So we had to go with him."
The Tigers stopped the Gamecocks with Shaw at the helm on his first possession, but from that point forward, they had no answer for him.
And with virtually no margin for error, Shaw carved up the Tigers like a Halloween pumpkin.
When all was said and done, Shaw had completed 20 of 29 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns in less than two quarters of work.
More importantly, he saved the season for the Gamecocks (6-2, 4-2 SEC), who now trail the Tigers (7-1, 3-1) by one in the loss column and also hold the tiebreaker edge with Missouri thanks to the victory.
The simplest scenario moving forward for the Gamecocks in the SEC East is to win out against Mississippi State and Florida, while having Missouri and Georgia each lose once more.
A two-way tie between Missouri and the Gamecocks gives South Carolina the SEC East crown.
A loss would have left the Gamecocks only a faint mathematical possibility to win the East and realistically looking at a mid- to lower-tier bowl berth.
Now, thanks to Shaw, even the impossible seems possible once again.
All rankings refer to BCS unless otherwise noted.
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