Connor Shaw has made his case to remain the Gamecocks' starting quarterback
It looks like the Ol' Ball Coach finally got it right.
By naming Connor Shaw the South Carolina starting quarterback for Saturday's game against Kentucky, Steve Spurrier put the fears of Gamecock Nation to rest; Stephen Garcia wouldn't be able to throw away another game.
And after watching Shaw's stellar performance on Saturday, it would seem that he's finally won back the job that was his to begin with.
No longer should South Carolina football fans have to worry that their quarterback will undermine the efforts of the team on the field. Whereas Stephen Garcia often had Spurrier throwing his headset in dismay, Shaw had his head coach smiling and clapping on the sideline during the Gamecocks' 54-3 rout of the Wildcats.
For a team so loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, South Carolina's performance to date has been somewhat underwhelming. This can mostly be attributed to turnovers and overall poor quarterback play from Garcia, and should be easily corrected with the insertion of Connor Shaw as the primary signal caller.
So Gamecock fans, get ready for a lot more offense. Here's why Connor Shaw is a better fit than Stephen Garcia at quarterback for South Carolina...
Shaw has been perfect from a turnover perspective this season
Connor Shaw is completing 60 percent of his passes. He's thrown for 340 yards. He has four touchdown passes and zero interceptions.
By comparison, Stephen Garcia's completion percentage is just under 52 percent. He's amassed 844 passing yards and has four touchdown passes.
Oh, and nine interceptions.
Garcia has also seen much more of the field than Shaw has. Garcia played three quarters against East Carolina in the season opener and started the next four games against Georgia, Navy, Vanderbilt and Auburn.
While the difference in the volume of reps for each quarterback makes it tough to compare their stats apples to apples, it's the interception column that has had the biggest impact on their respective performances to date.
Winning the turnover battle is often a deciding factor in the final score of a college football game. With Garcia at quarterback, South Carolina would be at a much higher risk of losing that battle (and most likely, the games in which he plays).
Shaw, on the other hand, doesn't turn the ball over. This leads to extended drives resulting in points for South Carolina (read: win over Kentucky). Shaw's ability to make good decisions with the football is in stark contrast to Garcia's apparent willingness to throw the ball into coverage.
Anyone who watched the first half of the game against Vanderbilt knows what I mean.
Unless South Carolina's defense wants to constantly clean up Garcia's messes, Shaw needs to be the starter from here on out.
USC is hoping to celebrate a few titles this year
During the preseason, the South Carolina Gamecocks were picked to win the SEC East. There were even whispers that this team might be in contention for a BCS National Championship should the dominoes fall the right way.
With the amount of talent and experience on both sides of the ball, those expectations weren't unreasonable.
That being said, this team should be undefeated at this point in the season. After an ugly loss to Auburn at home in which Stephen Garcia went 9-of-23 for 160 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, South Carolina rebounded nicely this Saturday with a dominant offensive performance against Kentucky.
Connor Shaw went 26-of-39 for 311 yards and four touchdowns as the starting quarterback. Coincidence? I think not.
The Gamecocks are a strong team all-around; all that's needed to make this team a legitimate threat to win the SEC Championship game (and most likely earn a berth in the BCS Championship game) is a solid quarterback.
The South Carolina coaching staff knows the hype surrounding this team is real, and the coaches owe it to the fans to put the best possible team on the field. The best possible team is one that includes Shaw under center.
If the Gamecocks are serious about making a run to the conference title game and beyond, Shaw has to be the quarterback to lead them there.
Spurrier spent his time calling plays rather than calling out his quarterback
From watching the game against Kentucky, even the casual college football fan could tell that Connor Shaw was confident and prepared. Throughout the game, he made smart decisions with the football while he guided the offense on scoring drive after scoring drive.
Shaw's poise in the pocket reflected well on his abilities as a quarterback. However, it didn't reflect well on Stephen Garcia.
As a fifth-year starter, it's generally expected that Garcia will make smart plays and avoid turnovers. But in comparison to Shaw, most of the time it's hard to tell who the more experienced quarterback is. On Saturday, Shaw displayed the composure and decision-making abilities often found in older players.
More importantly, shots of Steve Spurrier on the sideline didn't show him cursing and throwing his headset (as he often does when Garcia is in the game).
Shaw's quality of play was so high that it allowed Spurrier to open up his playbook. Without having to worry about turnovers from his starting quarterback, Spurrier dialed up exotic formations (e.g. three down linemen, with the tackles split outside the hash marks) and play calls (e.g. direct snaps to running back Marcus Lattimore) that resulted in touchdowns more often than not.
Spurrier was all smiles on Saturday. And when the head coach is smiling, everyone's smiling. If nothing else, Connor Shaw has the ability to impress his coach, which is something Stephen Garcia seems to have lost.
Alshon Jeffery celebrates his big game
The change from Stephen Garcia to Connor Shaw at starting quarterback immediately improved the quality of South Carolina's offense. On the first offensive drive of the game for the Gamecocks, Shaw led his team 80 yards downfield for a touchdown.
Shaw did what his skill players have wanted their quarterback to do all season: score points.
With Garcia at quarterback, the offense seemed to rely too heavily on Marcus Lattimore and the running game. With Shaw making the throws, the offense is much more dynamic. He showed an interest in finding Alshon Jeffery on the first series, which Garcia normally doesn't do.
And once Jeffery got going, the running lanes were that much wider for Lattimore.
With true balance on offense, South Carolina was unstoppable against Kentucky. Jeffery finished with six receptions for 95 yards and two touchdowns, by far his best game of the season. Not to be forgotten, Lattimore had 22 carries for a total of 102 yards on the ground.
For once, the team didn't have to rely on the rushing attack to put points on the board.
Ten different receivers caught passes during the game as the team compiled 639 total yards and scored 54 points. Shaw's pass distribution added the extra dimension to the South Carolina offense that had been missing under Garcia.
Yes, South Carolina won games with Garcia starting at quarterback, but those victories can be attributed to great defense and superhuman efforts from Lattimore. Shaw offers the team the ability to break down a defense through the air, which is an upgrade from Garcia at quarterback.
Connor Shaw warming up before kickoff
Before we forget, Connor Shaw was the quarterback who won the starting job during the summer. Doesn't that count for something?
The calls for Stephen Garcia to be replaced were well-founded, as Shaw was the better player going into the season. If not for the rough start against East Carolina in his first game, Shaw might have been the starting quarterback all along.
South Carolina is lucky, in that they had a "backup" quarterback in Shaw, who was a three-star, dual-threat quarterback recruit out of high school. Additionally, he had the experience of backing up Garcia during the 2010 season, which has proved invaluable to his maturation process this year.
Despite the fact that Shaw won the starting job outright, Steve Spurrier seemed hesitant to stick with Shaw in the opener. Maybe it was his feeling that Garcia had more experience in the offensive system that caused him to pull Shaw in favor of the fifth-year senior.
Regardless of his feelings at the beginning of the season, Spurrier has figured it out now. Perhaps Shaw was nervous at getting his first start early in the year, which is why his performance was so forgettable. However, with Garcia not playing up to expectations, Shaw has been given back the job that was rightfully his from the outset.
It doesn't look like he's willing to give it back, either.