A good friend coined a word to describe the performance of the the MVP of the Capital One Bowl – Shawsome. And indeed it was an awesome performance by Connor Shaw in USC's 34-24 victory over Wisconsin.
The Gamecock senior was 22-of-25 passing for 312 yards and three touchdowns, rushed for 47 yards and a score. To put the icing on a fabulous career, he caught a pass from wide receiver Bruce Ellington for his first receiving TD.
Not that I haven't been thinking about it as the season has progressed, but listening to Connor when he accepted the MVP trophy and later in the postgame press conference, I realized just how much he has meant to the Carolina program and to the university, how much he will be missed and how difficult he will be to replace.
Just think about someone having to fill his shoes from a statistical standpoint:
-- He has been the winningest quarterback in school history at 26-5, including a perfect 17-0 record at home.
-- He is the first QB with more than 4,000 yards passing and 1,000 rushing.
-- His 312 yards against the Badgers gave him 6,074 for his career, which moved him from ninth to fourth on the USC career passing leaders list.
-- His three TD passes gives him 56, second only to Steve Taneyhill's 62.
When you add his tremendous courage and leadership, those will be some very big shoes to fill indeed.
While Connor was the star, the win over Wisconsin was a total team effort in every sense of the word. Seven receivers caught at least one pass, led by Ellington (6 for 140 yds, 2TDs), and Shaq Roland (6 for 112 yds). It was Shaq's best game of the season, and his 49-yard catch between two defenders that set up a field goal was a Sidney Rice-like grab.
The Gamecocks only rushed the ball 34 times, and Connor had 16 of those. Mike Davis averaged 5.4 yards on his nine carries, and Brandon Wilds averaged 5.3 on three rushes.
In my mind the MVPs of this remarkable 11-2 season were the offensive linemen. They were solid as a rock all season, and against Wisconsin's big and aggressive front, they were outstanding.
The defense was good when they had to be. Although the Badgers amassed 410 yards of total offense, the defense made the big play time after time. Almost always, the team that wins the turnover battle wins the game, and the Gamecocks won it 4-2.
When the season started, the biggest concern was the youth of the linebackers. Sophomore Kawain Lewis led the team in tackles with nine, with an interception and a fumble recovery. Season tackle leader freshman Skai Moore added five to his total against the Badgers, and had two interceptions.
I've said it before, but 33 wins in three seasons, five straight wins over Clemson, three-straight bowl wins over Big 10 teams, is a little surreal. When I said in a post last week that I thought South Carolina deserved to be considered an “elite” program, I knew I would get some naysayers.
“You can't be an elite team until you win the Southeastern Conference Championship or a National Championship,” were the most common remarks to my statement. I agree those are steps the Gamecocks have to make to qualify for elite status universally, but how many programs wouldn't kill to have 33 wins in three seasons?
Finding players to replace Connor Shaw, Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles, Victor Hampton, Chaz Sutton and Bruce Ellington will be a challenge, no doubt about it, but rest assured Steve Spurrier's staff has recruited at a level that will keep USC moving forward for years to come.
More than anything, I think the results of the last three seasons have created a culture where players who come Carolina expect to win, not hope to win, and outstanding prospects want to be a part of this culture.
As always, I can't wait for spring practice to see which players will step up their games, to be the next big-time contributors for USC's program. There are some saying that next season could be “the year” for the Gamecocks. Time will tell, but I know the talent to make that dream come true wears garnet and black.
It's a great time to be a Gamecock!