ORLANDO, Fla. — CONNOR SHAW KNEW the risk involved when he signed with South Carolina in 2010. Yet he believed Steve Spurrier’s recruiting promise that the coach’s vaunted offense was on the brink of a makeover.
The risk for Shaw, who was equally adept at running and passing in high school, was in knowing that Spurrier’s offenses at Florida and previously at USC seldom called for the quarterback to run. Spurrier was known to publicly call out quarterbacks who turned to the run instead of rifling the ball downfield.
“I knew that,” Shaw says of Spurrier’s history as a coach of play-action passers who opted for the quarterback run only in the most desperate of situations.
“One thing he said was, we were going to implement the zone-read offense and get a more mobile quarterback,” Shaw recalls of Spurrier’s recruiting pitch when he was a senior at Flowery Branch (Ga.) High.
It took awhile, but Shaw’s performance this season proved that Spurrier’s offense has successfully transformed into one that includes a dual-threat quarterback.
What made Shaw into, perhaps, the greatest quarterback in USC history was the threat he posed to opposing defenses with both his right arm and his legs. The senior completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,135 yards and 21 touchdowns against one interception. He also was second on the team in rushing with 511 yards and five touchdowns.
“That’s what Connor Shaw does. He’s a runner and passer,” Spurrier says. “He runs just as well as he passes, passes just as well as he runs.”
None of this would have come about had Spurrier not hired Shawn Elliott as his offensive line coach in January 2010. Elliott’s teaching of the read-option was instrumental in Appalachian State winning consecutive FCS national championships from 2005 to 2007.
“We had some scheme conversations, of course,” Elliott said of the hiring process. “(Spurrier) knew my background a little bit and wanted me to get up on the (grease) board and show him what we did, so that’s what I did.”
Using the read-option proved dicey in Elliott’s first season at USC when Spurrier was reluctant to allow quarterback Stephen Garcia to run the ball. Then Garcia’s 32-yard run on a quarterback draw in the 2011 season-opener against East Carolina proved to be the unveiling of USC’s new-look offense.
Garcia also scored on a 5-yard touchdown run in that game and finished with 56 yards on five carries. The jubilation on the USC sideline among assistant coaches after Garcia’s two touchdown runs, perhaps, signaled an acceptance that a running quarterback could fit into the Spurrier scheme.
Having a quarterback who can effectively run the ball eliminates the one-man advantage a defense has against an offense with a purely pocket-passing quarterback. Normally, the quarterback does not have to be accounted for, unless he can run. Then the defense is put in a quandary of having to deal with two players in one.
That became more evident when Garcia was booted from the team later in that 2011 season. Shaw took over and had a rushing touchdown in each of his final six games as a starter.
For Shaw, it was a matter of showing off his versatility. He was a mobile quarterback in high school, passing for 5,300 yards and 52 touchdowns over his final two seasons while accumulating 1,741 yards rushing and 28 touchdowns.
By 2012, the offense had been adjusted to fully take advantage of Shaw’s passing as well as running skills, and Spurrier had accepted the idea that it was OK for his quarterback to run on called plays or scrambles.
“I think coach Spurrier’s done a great job of adapting to the new style,” Shaw says. “I think that’s what we had to do, and it’s really paid off for us.”
Shaw was at his running best this season with 16 carries for 75 yards against Georgia, 19 carries for 84 yards against Vanderbilt and 22 carries for 94 yards against Clemson. Against Clemson, USC could not generate a running game and turned that part of the game over almost exclusively to Shaw.
So now USC will wind Shaw up one more time and let him go on Wednesday against Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl. It will be a final chance to see the quarterback who will forever be responsible for revamping one of the most famous offenses in college football history.