Morris: Gamecocks’ Shaw leaves a legacy of toughness, winning

rmorris@ thestate.comJanuary 1, 2014 

— CONNOR SHAW fought back tears as the Capital One Bowl MVP trophy was presented to him Wednesday at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium.

“It’s an emotional moment right now, ending my career ,” Shaw said to the thousands of South Carolina fans who remained in the stands. “I couldn’t imagine a better way to go out. I’m so proud of this program.”

In typical Shaw fashion, he deflected as much attention as he could to his teammates by pointing to them and shouting “my boys!” His boys played well, but there was no denying who deserved the bulk of the spotlight for USC’s 34-24 victory against Wisconsin.

This was a fitting end to what has turned out to be a spectacular career for Shaw, who finished with an eyebrow-raising 27-5 record as a starting quarterback. Shaw displayed every characteristic — from running the read option to scrambling for first downs to finding open receivers on the run to tossing deep passes — that has made him the best quarterback in program history.

“All right, Connor,” Steve Spurrier said as Shaw sat down next to him for the quarterback’s final postgame news conference. “He’s a pretty good player.”

Pretty good does not begin to describe this bowl game performance. Really, it was difficult to determine which team was better as USC matched Wisconsin’s powerful running game with a multi-faceted attack that kept the vaunted Badgers’ defense off guard. The difference between the teams was USC had Shaw. Wisconsin did not.

Shaw’s numbers only begin to tell the story. He was 22 of 25 passing for 312 yards and three touchdowns. He ran the ball 16 times for 47 yards and a touchdown. For good measure, he also caught a 9-yard touchdown pass.

“He’s kind of their engine,” Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland said. “Their offense goes as he goes, and he played well.”

“He lived up to his billing,” Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen said.

Shaw made play after play after play after play.

Early in the second quarter, Shaw scrambled out of the pocket on what looked to be another of his third-down jaunts for a first down. Then he suddenly pulled up and tossed the ball to running back Mike Davis for 7 yards and, yes, a first down.

When Wisconsin pulled within 27-24 early in the fourth quarter, Shaw was at his best. On the nine-play, 88-yard drive, Shaw fired a 33-yard strike to Shaq Roland that was perfectly placed over the receiver’s outside shoulder at the sideline. He also scrambled out of the pocket for 11 yards, recognizing where the first-down marker was and tip-toeing out of bounds with inches to spare. Then he ran the read-option for 10 yards before sneaking the final yard for a touchdown.

Perhaps the play Shaw and USC fans will remember most from his final collegiate game was one Spurrier called at the team breakfast earlier in the day. The offense had practiced it during the week, and Spurrier assured Shaw at breakfast that USC would run it.

WATCH THE PLAY

After a Wisconsin timeout, USC faced a first-and-goal from the Wisconsin 9-yard-line early in the second quarter of a 7-7 game. Shaw handed the ball to Pharoh Cooper on an end around. Cooper then flipped the ball to Bruce Ellington on a reverse. Ellington lofted the ball across the field to Shaw, who caught the ball falling on his back in the end zone for a touchdown.

As if Shaw had not done enough by running, passing and receiving the ball, he also displayed uncanny acting skills on that touchdown.

“A good little acting job,” Spurrier said. “He hands it off and acts like he’s not going anywhere. You’ve got to hesitate just a moment and then break behind (the Wisconsin linebacker).”

Shaw was a standout receiver his sophomore season at Flowery Branch (Ga.) High with 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns. After watching his big-play antics over the past three seasons at USC, who would doubt that Shaw could have been an outstanding collegiate receiver?

“I want to be remembered as a great teammate and I want to be remembered as one of the toughest quarterbacks that played here, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that,” Shaw said on the field after his final game.

“This is my last time wearing a Carolina uniform. I don’t want to take it off,” he said. “It’s emotional right now. I’m so proud of the way this has ended. ... I don’t want to take this uniform off for the last time. I don’t think I’m going to. I might just go back to Columbia with this thing on me.”

Interviews completed, Shaw held his MVP trophy in one hand and trotted to one side of the grandstands where an adoring USC crowd waited. He removed one garnet wristband and tossed it to a young fan in the first row.

Shaw then blew a kiss to the crowd and jogged off the field, leaving behind a career full of memories for USC fans to cherish for years.

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