Connor Shaw looked like the guy who has guided the South Carolina football team to 19 victories in 23 career starts.
Using his accurate arm and quick feet, the senior quarterback guided the Gamecocks up and down the field for much of the game, as he completed 21-of-29 passes for 284 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for another 84 yards while the team rolled up 31 first downs and 579 yards.
Along the way, USC built a lead big enough to hold off a Vanderbilt rally Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium.
“I thought he had a heck of a game. He’s really a good passer,” USC coach Steve Spurrier said. “Yeah, we gave him a game ball. We thought he was deserving.”
But his two biggest plays might have been runs of 9 and 2 yards to pick up a first down after the Gamecocks were pinned on their own 1-yard line. That led to a drive of nearly eight minutes that kept the ball out of the Commodores’ hands and ran out the clock.
“When he had to run, he ran — like out of the end zone that time,” Spurrier said.
And when he needed to make a big play with his arm, he did that too. In the first quarter, he found receiver Nick Jones for a 12-yard touchdown pass for the game’s first score. In the second quarter, he tossed a strike to receiver Bruce Ellington for a 26-yard touchdown. In the third quarter, he watched as tailback Brandon Wilds took a short pass 33 yards for another touchdown.
“I told the receivers early in the week that I was going to let it fly,” Shaw said.
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin was as impressed as Spurrier by Shaw’s performance.
“Their quarterback played as good of first half as he could. That throw to Ellington over the shoulder was in perfect position,” Franklin said.
Ellington, who caught a career-high eight passes for 111 yards, agreed with that assessment. He likes how Shaw keeps opponents off-balance.
“He throws and runs the ball,” Ellington said. “For a defense, you’ve got to watch that. It’s hard to play against a quarterback who can throw and run. He comes out to practice and he steps up being a leader. He comes out every day to work. He’s got his confidence back, and he’s stepping up making plays.”
Along the way, the offense, behind Shaw and backup Dylan Thompson, converted 11-of-17 third downs and 2-of-3 fourth downs.
“This might be the best we’ve ever looked on offense since I’ve been here,” Spurrier said.
Shaw was pleased as well the Gamecocks built a 28-0 lead early in the second quarter.
“This is what you hope for, come out hot, come out the gate, playing well,” Shaw said. “We jumped on them quick.”
The only disappointment on the night for Shaw came when so many fans left after USC built its 28-10 halftime lead.
“I don’t think there is an excuse for our stands to be emptying out. I was disappointed in that,” he said.
Still, it was hard to complain about the team’s first SEC victory of the season in a game where he played with confidence and exuberance.
“It’s my senior year,” Shaw said. “I’m just having fun playing football.”