DYLAN THOMPSON knows the score. He did not so much as blink Tuesday at SEC Media Days when asked the difference in his game and that of departed South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw.
Thompson quickly recounted an 80-yard touchdown run by Shaw two seasons ago against Missouri that, as it turned out, was nullified by a clipping penalty.
“Don’t expect to be seeing that from me,” Thompson said. “That would be my advice. Don’t expect to be seeing any 80-yard runs.”
Do not expect Thompson to be Shaw. Do not expect USC’s offense to mirror the one it became by the close of the 2013 season. Shaw won games primarily with his legs. Thompson will win games primarily with his arm.
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“I don’t think you’re going to see me running the speed-option (play) to win us the game,” Thompson said. “But I think we’ll still run the zone-read just to keep the guys honest. ... I don’t think we’ll run the quarterback as much, probably more down-field passing, I would guess.”
Maybe USC fans can expect the offense to closer resemble Steve Spurrier’s offense from years ago when his quarterbacks generally sat in the pocket for pass attempts or handed the ball off to running backs.
Aside from the 2006 season when Syvelle Newton spelled Blake Mitchell at quarterback and gained 330 yards rushing, Shaw was the first of Spurrier’s quarterbacks to realize his legs could be as big a weapon – sometimes bigger than – as his arm.
Shaw’s abilities to both operate the zone-read offense and escape the pocket led to a dramatic transformation of Spurrier’s offense. If you do not believe that offense has changed significantly since his days as Florida’s coach, consider a few statistics.
Understand, in college football statistics, sacks count against a quarterback’s rushing totals. Quarterbacks who operate in an offense with a pocket-passing scheme generally have a negative rushing total for the season. Those quarterbacks who are dual threats can balance their rushing totals with yards gained versus sacks.
During his 12 seasons at Florida, Spurrier’s quarterbacks managed positive yards rushing one time. That was the 1992 season when, Gators quarterbacks totaled 22 yards rushing. Over Spurrier’s 12 seasons, Florida quarterbacks accounted for 1,113 lost yards rushing.
By comparison, Shaw accumulated 525, 435 and 558 yards rushing over his final three seasons and totaled 1,683 yards on the ground for his career. Incredibly, Shaw ranks 20th on USC’s all-time rushing list, 127 yards shy of Rob DeBoer and 169 behind Duce Staley and Andrew Pinnock. Shaw’s 452 career rushing attempts are 12 short of Cory Boyd for the 10th-most in program history.
What Shaw’s performance proved, beyond his being the greatest quarterback in USC history, is that Spurrier has been willing to adapt his offense to both what is needed for his team and for what qualities a particular quarterback brings to the attack.
Thompson does not have the mobility Shaw possessed, but, frankly, USC might never again have a quarterback with Shaw’s propensity to gain yardage with his legs. Thompson is not completely immobile, though. Despite sacks, he has 66 yards rushing on 55 attempts for his career.
Thompson probably has a bigger arm than Shaw and likely can make throws that Shaw could not make. So USC could be able to stretch defenses better with Thompson at quarterback.
With virtually no experience behind Thompson, USC also cannot afford for him to run the ball as recklessly as Shaw did. Sophomore Brendan Nosovitch accounts for all of USC’s backup experience at quarterback with two pass attempts and three rushes last season.
“Dylan probably won’t run quite as much, but he can run with it,” Spurrier said. “He’s not just a sitting duck back there. He can take off. Occasionally, we encourage him to do that. Dylan, I really believe, is by far our best quarterback. So we need to keep him healthy the entire year.”
Keeping Thompson healthy and playing to his strengths should lead to the same winning ways established by Shaw. Really, that is the bottom line. No matter the methods of the offense, the goal is for Thompson and USC to have similar end results of the past three seasons under Shaw.