Heading into Week 7 of the college football season, all of the SEC media attention is focusing on the University of Alabama and LSU. However, the biggest game this week will be in Starkville, Miss. where South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw will attempt to lead the Gamecocks to their first road victory with him at the helm.
Despite South Carolina’s team achievements over the past two seasons, it has still been woeful away from William Brice Stadium. For example, last season the Gamecocks finished the season 9-5. They were impressive at home with a record of 6-1, though they recorded a woeful 3-4 record on the road.
To win on the road in the SEC, you need solid quarterback play. With Stephen Garcia it was hit or miss.
If the Gamecocks can get consistent road play from the quarterback position, the season outlook will change dramatically. If Shaw can bring consistency to the Gamecocks they will become serious contenders for the SEC Championship. At this point, this year’s SEC Championship figures to be as completive as last season's by most experts. However, if South Carolina gets the right matchup in Atlanta, it could pull the upset.
Consider the fact that Spurrier has a head-to-head record of three wins and one loss versus Saban. In fact, those three victories have been by scores of 31, 30 and 14. Moreover, Marcus Lattimore is the kind of running back that can find success against the Tide between the tackles, but they must have solid play at the quarterback position.
How will the Gamecocks finish 2011?
The above potential is the good news. The bad news is, with the recent departure of Garcia, if Shaw fails to be the quarterback the Gamecock coaching staff hopes for, the season will end in disaster.
The results so far are not promising for South Carolina fans, but Shaw’s sample of work is too small to make an educated guess.
Shaw has started two games this season, one at home and one on the road. At home, last week versus Kentucky, he looked like a first-round NFL draft pick. Shaw completed 26 of 39 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns. As a result, the Gamecocks looked great across the board in a 54-3 victory.
As good as Shaw was last week, he was equally bad in his start on the road against East Carolina. Technically it is listed as a home game but was played on a neutral field in Charlotte, NC. Shaw only played one quarter and was very unimpressive, completing three of nine passes for 21 yards. The Gamecocks were down 17-0 before Garcia intervened and led South Carolina to a 56-37 win.
Garcia will not be there to rescue South Carolina this time if Shaw fails.
His first road test will be this week versus Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are sixth in the SEC in pass defense. They have only given up seven passing touchdowns while intercepting opposing quarterbacks nine times. While the Bulldogs have been a disappointment overall, they have remained tough at home under head coach Dan Mullen.
Shaw does not have to be great, he just has to be efficient. He cannot turn the ball over and he must take pressure off the run game. He has one of the top wide receivers in the nation and he must continue to take advantage of that fact.
If Shaw can remain consistent and Spurrier can remain patient, the sky is the limit. However, if both self-implode, the season will end in failure.