South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said the Gamecocks are ready to roll with sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw and it’s important that the team rally around Shaw.
"I guess the new word is, ‘We've got your back ... Hang in there. We’re going to block for you and give you a chance to be successful,'" Spurrier said Wednesday, just a day after Stephen Garcia's dismissal from the team was announced.
There's no turning back now for the No. 15-ranked Gamecocks. The enigmatic and oft-suspended Garcia is finally gone. It's Shaw's show the rest of the way, and the Head Ball Coach is the first to admit that they don't have anybody behind the 6-foot-1, 200-pound sophomore who's remotely ready to play against an SEC defense.
"We need to keep him healthy," Spurrier said. "But as a coach, you take the players you’ve got and get ready to go play, and that’s all you can do. We don’t want Connor to run a whole lot. He’s a good runner, so he’ll run a little bit here and there. But we need to think about his safety all the time out there."
The good thing for the Gamecocks is that Shaw at least has some SEC experience. He's coming off a four-touchdown performance last week at home in a 54-3 rout of Kentucky after being named the starter earlier in the week. He also opened this season as the starter against East Carolina, but was pulled after the first quarter. Last season, he went into the game late against Auburn (the regular-season contest) and moved the team into Auburn territory on two different occasions, but was intercepted both times.
He gets another shot at an SEC defense on the road this Saturday when South Carolina travels to Mississippi State. It's one of three SEC road games the Gamecocks have remaining as they try to get back to the SEC championship game for the second year in a row.
Whatever happens, Spurrier doesn't think any of it will be too big for Shaw, who by all accounts outplayed Garcia during preseason camp.
"Connor is from a football family," Spurrier said. "Connor was an all-state quarterback in Georgia a couple years ago. His brother is the starting quarterback at Georgia Southern. I think they’re undefeated. His dad is a head high school coach, so he’s grown up with football. I guess he’s what they call a football junkie. He needs to improve, and he knows that. He’s a pretty level-headed young man, and he’s our quarterback.
"We need to let him play and see what happens. He’s not going to be perfect, but he’s certainly capable of making the plays when they’re there."
Spurrier said he was still unsure who would go in at quarterback if something were to happen to Shaw. Sophomore Andrew Clifford and redshirt freshman Dylan Thompson are the two possibilities, although the Gamecocks would also run a lot of their Wildcat package with Bruce Ellington, Stephon Gilmore and Marcus Lattimore all factoring into the equation.
"Dylan and Andrew are pretty even," Spurrier said. "It may be who has the best warm-up in pregame practice, to tell you the truth. That’s what happened last Saturday. Dylan ran with the second team in pregame warm-ups and didn’t look very good. Clifford was a little better. That’s how close they are."