THE TWO PEOPLE most important to South Carolina’s success in the fall did little but watch Saturday during the Gamecocks’ spring game.
Jadeveon Clowney, who missed the game with a minor neck injury, is not one of those people. Seasons do not rise and fall on defensive ends, even potential Heisman Trophy winning defensive ends. Seasons rise and fall on quarterbacks.
Starting quarterback Connor Shaw did not play this spring, and his only appearance on the field Saturday was to accept the outstanding student-athlete representative award at halftime. Dylan Thompson started the game for the Black team, a 44-30 winner, but left after 10 passes, six of which he completed for 96 yards. He finished with one touchdown and one interception, and none of that matters.
Thompson will play this fall, but he doesn’t know when or how much.
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Coach Steve Spurrier “has told me to expect to play a lot,” Thompson said. “Whatever that means, it means, but I think he has confidence in both myself and Connor that we are not going to look at it like a selfish thing. I know Connor is here and he knows I am here, and we are going to work together.”
The pair worked together well last year when a series of injuries to Shaw thrust a quarterback rotation upon the Gamecocks. Under the circumstances, it went about as well as could be expected.
Combined, they finished last season with 2,983 yards, 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions on 220 of 355 passing. That yardage would have made one quarterback the SEC’s sixth-leading passer behind Bo Wallace of Ole Miss and ahead of Tyler Russell of Mississippi State. The touchdown-to-interception ratio is almost identical to that of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel (26 to 9), although, to be fair, Manziel added an SEC-high 108.5 rushing yards per game. The 62 percent completion rate is almost exactly that of Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson, the SEC’s leading passer.
Throw in 35 yards per game from the quarterback running game (where Shaw did almost all the heavy lifting), and South Carolina got good quarterback play last year. Whether or not it goes as smoothly this year will be the biggest factor in the success of South Carolina’s 2013 season.
When the rotation sprung up naturally, all was well. Now, both quarterbacks will go through the summer and into the season thinking like starters and expecting playing time.
“When you are the backup, you’re like, ‘He’s the guy and I’m the backup and that’s how it is,’ ” Thompson said. “This year, I think we will both be extremely prepared and ready for whatever the situation is.”
That doesn’t mean there will be problems, Thompson said. In fact, he insists there won’t be.
“I think a lot of times in those two-quarterback things, when they go wrong, it has to do with the guys that are involved. I feel like a lot of times those guys will be selfish or something like that, but I feel like me and Connor, whatever way it goes, we will look at it in a positive way and move on from there,” Thompson said.
Spurrier, who has been juggling quarterbacks since Shaw and Thompson were born, doesn’t foresee problems.
“He and Connor give us the two best since I’ve been here, that’s for sure,” Spurrier said.
Shaw’s absence from spring practice won’t affect the rotation, Spurrier said. The senior missed the practices while rehabbing from foot surgery but is expected to participate fully in summer workouts.
“Connor is ready to go,” Spurrier said. “He’ll work extremely hard this summer, be ready to play, just like Dylan will.”