Steve Spurrier and Connor Shaw are not on the same page.
There was little doubt at the end of Saturday’s 24-7 win against pesky Wofford that quarterback and coach have reached the point where all they can do is throw up their hands.
“I’m saying you’ve got to throw it somewhere, Connor, you can’t take off running every play,” Spurrier said following the game.
“I don’t know how much longer I could have stayed in the pocket,” Shaw countered later with a tone of resignation. “I tried to stay in the pocket as long as I could, but there’s always stuff to improve on.”
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Shaw completed 16 of 20 passes for 122 yards. That’s a miserable 7.6 yards per completion. His two longest passes were a pair of catch-and-run plays that went for 15 yards.
That and a big-play defense will win you a game against a Southern Conference opponent.
Do that against an LSU or a Florida and well you know.
How much of that was Shaw’s shortcomings and how much of that was Spurrier’s play-calling? None of us are offensive coordinators and none of us are walking in Shaw’s shoes — one of which is covering a sprained foot.
But we’ve all seen what can happen when there’s a high comfort level between quarterback and coach. All you have to do is look a couple hours up the highway at next week’s opponent.
The Gamecocks do not have that. It burned them against LSU and Florida and it’s quite possible it could burn them again, be it next week or at whatever sunny bowl destination they end up at.
Shaw pointed to Wofford’s tendency of dropping eight players into coverage and rushing three. Occasionally, that gave Shaw all the time in the world to look down field. But when there are more Terriers than Gamecocks in the flight pattern, even the best quarterbacks can struggle.
Spurrier was unmoved by that argument.
“I know they had pretty good coverage,” Spurrier said. “I couldn’t get him to turn it loose.”
Said Shaw, “I was forced to run on some of those.”
So can these two guys get it figured out? They seemed to be two peas in a pod over the final seven games of the 2011 season. This year though — with a few notable exceptions such as the Missouri game — that comfort level has not been achieved.
Shaw needs to do a little more of what Spurrier asks of him and Spurrier needs to get back to tailoring an offense around what Shaw does best. Shaw needs to improve his decision-making and do a better job of looking downfield. Spurrier needs get back to taking advantage of Shaw’s quickness and put him in more situations where he can succeed with his feet.
Aggravating factors in all of this is an offensive line that has a tendency of bursting into flames and a group of receivers that often wind up on the side of milk cartons.
Those issues must be addressed as well.
There is that nagging feeling that Dylan Thompson is a better fit for what Spurrier likes to do. But even if that was the case, the offensive line’s failings demand Shaw’s mobility. Maybe in an alternate universe with a stout line, Spurrier makes that switch to Thompson against East Carolina and never looks back.
So, it is what it is. This is the hand USC has been dealt. There remains much to play for this season, and you have to consider the 2012 campaign a success. This senior class has won more games than any other and we’re all witness to a much higher standard of excellence.
Spurrier and Shaw are big reasons why all of that has come to pass.
But they are not on the same page right now.
They need to get there.