The fate of one of South Carolina’s most anticipated football seasons is in the hands of a sophomore with a shaky resume.
Connor Shaw can handle it fine — at least, the part of it he will be asked to manage — Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said.
“He doesn’t have to try to win the game for us,” Spurrier said Tuesday, one day after announcing Shaw would replace fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia against Kentucky on Saturday. “Connor needs to just take care of the ball, make smart decisions, throw it to our guys, take off running every now and then, hand it off, and we think he’s capable.”
Shaw is 4-of-11 passing for 29 yards this season. He started the first game, against East Carolina, but didn’t return after the first quarter. He played in nine games in 2010, completing 23 of 33 passes for 223 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
“He hasn’t played a lot yet, so he needs to feel his way as he goes probably, but he’s going to get a chance to go play,” Spurrier said.
The change was made after Garcia threw six interceptions in the past two games. Garcia has thrown more interceptions this season — nine — than any quarterback in major-college football, and despite having started 34 games for the Gamecocks, he couldn’t find his rhythm this season.
Spurrier declined Tuesday to discus why Garcia seems to have regressed after a junior season in which he completed more than 60 percent of his passes and threw for more than 3,000 yards. Garcia was suspended twice in the offseason for off-field incidents.
“I just can’t get into all that,” Spurrier said. “Stephen is trying as hard as he can, and it just hasn’t worked out for him. And the other guy now is going to get his chance, and that’s about all I need to say about that.”
Garcia will be the backup but isn’t expected to play unless Shaw is injured. Garcia will attend his grandfather’s funeral in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday and will be allowed to miss as much practice time as he needs, Spurrier said.
“He’ll be ready to go in if needed,” Spurrier said.
Shaw inherits an offense that is ranked seventh in the SEC in yards per game with an average of 372. The Gamecocks will not have to cut back on their game plan because of Shaw’s youth, Spurrier said.
“He’s familiar with everything, and, hopefully, we don’t have to change a whole bunch while we’re out there,” Spurrier said. “He’s practiced all the same plays (as Garcia).”
Shaw needs to concentrate on delivering the ball quicker than Garcia has, said Spurrier, who indicated the team’s wide receivers share some of the responsibility for that.
“I know it appears the last few games there’s nowhere to throw it a lot of times,” Spurrier said. “So we’ll see if we can do a better job as coaches and do a better job of having somewhere to get the ball out.”
Spurrier had mentioned freshman Dylan Thompson had a chance to replace Garcia, but Shaw was the clear choice, Spurrier said. The Gamecocks also could use Bruce Ellington, Damiere Byrd or Stephon Gilmore as a wildcat quarterback, but Spurrier indicated that won’t be a big part of the game plan.
Shaw will be facing a Kentucky defense that is 10th in the SEC in points allowed (24.6 per game) and ninth in yards allowed (362.4 per game). Spurrier expects the Wildcats to give Shaw plenty to think about Saturday.
“They blitz from everywhere, zone blitzes, man blitzes; they’ve got a lot of defenses, which is unusual for Kentucky,” Spurrier said. “They used to only have about two or three defenses, and you sort of knew where they were. But these guys are all over the place.”