Steve Spurrier doesn’t expect his 2014 offense to start off as efficiently as his 2013 offense left off now that quarterback Connor Shaw is gone.
“How big a drop-off will that be? I don’t know,” Spurrier said. “We just have to go play and find out.”
Spurrier does expect that he’s already found his man to replace Shaw – veteran Dylan Thompson. The senior from Boiling Springs seems in many ways like the obvious choice for the job, but a 2013 season that didn’t match his 2012 left open the question of whether youngsters Brendan Nosovith and Connor Mitch might find themselves in the thick of a quarterback competition this spring.
Spurrier, though, squashed that line of thinking several times during January, calling Thompson “next year’s quarterback” in conversations with the media and with thousands of the team’s fans during halftime of a men’s basketball game.
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“Of course he is,” Spurrier said. “Why open it up when he’s the only one who has played? Played well. He is without question going to be our quarterback unless he gets hurts.”
The declaration takes some drama out of South Carolina’s spring practice, but it won’t stop all the questions surrounding the position as the Gamecocks begin the work of building on three straight 11-2 seasons and a No. 4 national ranking.
For Spurrier, the chief question is who will be Thompson’s backup, sophomore Brendan Nosovitch or redshirt freshman Connor Mitch.
“There is no clear-cut second,” Spurrier said. “That will be the challenge this spring, see if we can find a No. 2 guy.”
Here’s a look at all three quarterbacks:
THE PASSER - DYLAN THOMPSON
... Hometown: Boiling Springs
... Ht./Wt.: 6-foot-3, 218 pounds
... Class: Senior
... Career stats: 120-of-218, 1,827 yards, 14 TDs, 5 INTs When the 2012 season came to a close, there was a thought that Thompson could be the starter as soon as 2013. He filled in for an oft-injured Shaw several times throughout the year and answered the bell in dramatic fashion each time. His final numbers (66-of-127 for 1,027 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions) were impressive enough but didn’t tell the whole story. In both of his starts that season, he threw for more than 300 yards, including a three-touchdown effort in a win at Clemson. In the Outback Bowl against Michigan, he threw two touchdowns on 10 attempts, including a 33-yard, game-winner to Bruce Ellington with 11 seconds remaining.
However, that momentum ran out in 2013 as a healthier Shaw maintained a firm grasp on the starting job, limiting the opportunities for Thompson. In his two most important appearances of the season, Thompson replaced Shaw against UCF and completed 15-of-32 for 261 yards as the Knights almost mounted a late comeback. He then started against Missouri, completing 15-of-27 for 222 yards and watching the Tigers build a 17-0 lead before a hobbled Shaw replaced him in the second half.
Thompson’s only passes in the final four games of the season came in a 70-10 win over Coastal Carolina. He didn’t play against Florida or Clemson, and his only action in the bowl game came when Spurrier inserted him on the final play of the first half with orders to take the snap, take a knee and let the clock expire.
The offense figures to look different under Thompson than the more mobile Shaw, but Spurrier believes Thompson’s career average of 1.2 yards per carry is at least a little misleading.
“Dylan actually can run a little bit,” Spurrier said. “He can run that zone read pretty well.”
THE RUNNER - BRENDAN NOSOVITCH
... Hometown: Allentown, Pa.
... Ht./Wt.: 6-foot-1, 220 pounds
... Class: Redshirt sophomore
... Career stats: 2-of-2, 13 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs
If the Gamecocks want a runner, it’ll probably be Nosovitch. A former Pennsylvania player of the year and PARADE All-American, Nosovitch rushed for 2,499 yards while throwing for 6,921 in his final two seasons at Central Catholic High School. He is Pennsylvania’s career record holder for total yards (12,877) and was considered the No. 22 dual threat quarterback in the nation by Rivals.com in 2012.
His only collegiate action thus far has been mop-up duty, and he ran for a 7-yard touchdown against Arkansas and completed both of his pass attempts against Coastal Carolina this season. Nosovitch was named the team’s most improved quarterback last spring.
THE UNKNOWN - CONNOR MITCH
... Hometown: Raleigh, N.C.
... Ht./Wt.: 6-foot-3, 227 pounds
... Class: Redshirt freshman
... Career stats: None
Mitch is the player about whom the least is known and thus in the dynamic of quarterback hierarchy, the one who many fans believe MUST be the best option. There are reasons to be excited about Mitch’s potential, most notably the 4,661 yards and 63 touchdowns he threw for in his final prep season. He was rated a four-star prospect by two recruiting services and he once threw nine touchdowns in a single game (one shy of the national record).
Mitch’s coaches praised his development several times during the 2013 season, but his time was spent with the scout team so this spring (his second with the team) will be his first real chance to prove his acumen in South Carolina’s system. If you’re looking for symmetry in your argument that Mitch should be next season’s starter: in his final high school season, he led Wakefield to an 11-2 record.
THE WILDCARD - PHAROH COOPER
... Hometown: Havelock, N.C.
... Ht./Wt.: 5-foot-11, 194 pounds
... Class: Sophomore
... Career stats: 2-3, 29 yards, 1 TD; 193 yards rushing on 18 carries
And then there’s this possibility from Spurrier: “We will scrimmage a lot and see how (Nosovitch and Mitch) do,” Spurrier said. If it doesn’t go well for the youngsters, “we can always put Pharoh (Cooper) back there. That’s not a bad option, snap it to Pharoh and let him go play.”