SOUTH CAROLINA’S resounding victory against East Carolina told us a couple of things. First, the Gamecocksknow they have a backup quarterback. Also, it appears Dylan Thompson offers a few things to Steve Spurrier’s offense that injured starter Connor Shaw does not.
Thompson was impressive in his first career start. Bolstered by a receiving corps that stopped by his hotel room Saturday morning for a pep talk, Thompson self-injected a healthy dose of confidence when his third pass attempt landed softly in the hands of Damiere Byrd for a 53-yard gain.
“Getting off to a great start, hit Damiere, that was good for my confidence,” Thompson said.
Spurrier said earlier in the week that all Thompson needed to lead the offense was a jolt of confidence. When Marcus Lattimore followed Byrd’s catch with a 6-yard touchdown run, we saw that Thompson’s confidence was not lacking.
Thompson sprinted to the sideline, where he danced a jig and jumped a few times while receiving slaps on the helmet from Shawn Elliott, USC’s offensive line coach. Thompson admitted later that he might have gotten a little too excited.
Maybe so, but it was what USC’s offense needed after a sputtering performance against Vanderbilt a week earlier. Thompson completed 21 of 37 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns.
It was not so much that Thompson completed 13 of the 16 passes to wide receivers — the same corps that caught three balls against Vanderbilt — but the manner in which the quarterback made the throws.
Thompson stretched the East Carolina defense with deep-ball attempts, most of which were on target and either dropped or well-covered. One completion in particular probably showed Thompson has more arm strength than Shaw. That was a 30-yard touchdown strike in the second quarter thrown from the opposite hash mark to the end zone, where DeAngelo Smith hauled it in.
“Dylan, at times, was extremely good in practice,” Spurrier said. “Today, he was extremely good on just about all of them. Just about every play was really, really good. So, we’re all proud of Dylan in his first start, and the confidence he played with was thrilling for all of us to see.”
In addition to making throws, Thompson displayed an ability to scramble out of the pocket, keep his eyes down field and throw to open receivers who had adjusted their routes. That was in stark contrast to Shaw, whose excellent running skills lead him more often than not to take off down field in scramble situations.
Thompson’s performance was far from perfect. He had Spurrier throwing his play sheet on at least three occasions, and shaking his head another time on what Thompson called a “dumb play.”
Late in the game, Thompson scrambled for 17 yards and could easily have dived to the ground or stepped out of bounds near the East Carolina goal line. Instead, he ducked his head — Stephen Garcia style — and attempted to bull his way through a defender.
Thompson fumbled the ball and East Carolina recovered.
“Minus the linemen, I’m probably the worst athlete on our team on the offensive side of the ball,” said Thompson, who without saying so recognized that he is no Shaw when it comes to running the ball and bowling over defenders.
Thompson also recognized afterward that he is in no competition with Shaw for the starting job. Thompson praised Shaw for his skills as a quarterback, verified that he will remain the backup when Shaw returns and talked of how important it is to remain prepared to sub for the starter.
The unofficial acknowledgement that USC now has a solid backup for Shaw might have come late in the first half when the Gamecocks were driving for another score. Thompson scrambled, could not find an open receiver and did not intentionally throw an incompletion to stop the clock.
USC was forced to call a timeout. Spurrier marched to the field to greet Thompson, no doubt, with a few choice words about his quarterback’s poor decision-making on the play.
Thompson reached around and patted Spurrier on the back, a reassuring pat to let his coach know the backup quarterback job is now in good hands.