COLUMBIA, SC - OCTOBER 08: Connor Shaw #14 of the South Carolina Gamecocks drops back to pass during their game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 8, 2011 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Coming into this game, most of us agreed that the most important thing was to establish some kind of identity on offense. To score 20-30 points. Not to turn the ball over more than three times or so. To see Connor Shaw look like a relatively competent QB. Simply to get a solid win and to regain some semblance of momentum going into the meat of our schedule.
Well, it seems we did that--and much, much more. Shaw looked competent, all right, to the tune of a 311-yard, 26/39 comp/att, 4/0 td/int performance. Other than a couple of times where he held on to the ball too long and took a sack as well as one near INT where he failed to look off the safety, it was a nearly flawless performance. Needless to say, Shaw breathed immense life into this offense. We talked a lot over the course of the week about whether the offensive line or quarterbacking were the problem the last few weeks, and I think we have our answer. The line certainly needs to improve, but it's not so bad that this offense can't move the ball and score points, as long as it has an effective signal-caller. Shaw is that guy--and maybe then some.
While we're handing out high-fives to Shaw, let's not forget the other star of this game: the Carolina defense. Shaw was obviously the story of this game; a new QB always is. But the defense played another commanding game, holding Kentucky to 96 total yards and forcing five turnovers. It's the backbone of this team. And what's perhaps most surprising is that the story of the day for the defense is the secondary. With Melvin Ingram only playing a handful of snaps due to a minor injury, we didn't get as much pressure on the QB today. It didn't matter, though, as our DBs ball-hawked like pros and came up with a few very impressive INTs. A very promising performance by the D, which has very quickly begun to look like one of the conference's best--perhaps the best, and I don't say that lightly.
To sum up, this performance has to be considered a major confidence-booster to Gamecock Nation. We're not out of the woods yet--Kentucky is a bad football team, and Shaw will have a much stiffer test next week when he makes his first start in an SEC road atmosphere. However, this team has made a believer out of me. We found our QB, and, moreover, we bounced back after a tough loss, showing a bit of grit. I noted a quiet confidence from the team during the post-practice interviews over the course of the week, and I believe I see why, now: this team believes it's ready to challenge for a return trip to the SEC Championship Game. I agree.
A few more thoughts, including analysis of Shaw's performance, after the jump.
--I think you saw a few myths about Shaw dispelled today. One thing I've heard a few people say about him is that he wilts after taking hard hits and isn't as tough as Garcia. That's not what I saw today. Shaw took some tough hits against Kentucky, which, as expected, blitzed early and often to try to rattle him. Although he took a few sacks, he also made some excellent throws under pressure, and after he took the hits, he got right back up and made good decisions on the next play. Another thing I saw from him is that he learned from his fumble against ECU. When he ran the ball, he took what he could get and got down or went out of bounds. He didn't take many hits while running the ball.
Folks, I hate to say I told you so prior to the ECU game, but since I know no one is going to be in a bad mood today, I told you so. This kid is a baller. He's perhaps not as physically gifted as a bluechip QB, but he's certainly got enough of an arm, he's fast enough, and he's tough enough to make do, as long as he makes the right decisions. And he's got decision-making ability in spades, as far as I can tell. Carolina's offense is loaded with playmakers, as you saw today. If Shaw can continue playing like this, this will be one of the conference's better offenses. And considering that we may have the conference's best defense, that will be good enough to take this team very far.
--I liked all the formations, playcalls, and the like that we saw from Spurrier today. I sometimes felt that we were airing it out a bit too much, but overall, I think the plan was likely to prove to opposing defensive coordinators that they can stack the box only at their own risk. Mission accomplished. I also think you saw today that Spurrier is more comfortable varying the playbook with Shaw in the game. That says volumes.
--If there's a goat in this game, it's the offensive line. It began to play better as the game went on, but it allowed Shaw to get whopped a few times, and it committed some more stupid penalties. As I said, we saw today that our offense can move the ball with an average line, but if we want to really hit the stars, we need it to play better. It would certainly help to get Kyle Nunn back. Cody Gibson nor Mike Matulis aren't the answer, at least not this year.
--One other player I was a bit disappointed in was Damiere Byrd. He had a couple of nice plays, but he also dropped two should-have-been TDs. Perhaps he still feels some jitters after sitting out the first four games. The good news is that he was getting open, so he should be an option for big plays as the year goes on.
--One thing I really liked seeing was Stephen Garcia slapping fives with Shaw after big plays. It can oftentimes be a bit weird for the benched QB, and I'd hate to see that affect team chemistry. After all, Garcia is very close to some of the major players on the team, and he's been the leader for a long time. It's good that it seems that Garcia, whatever might be ailing him right now, is still committed to this team.
--If you're a Kentucky fan and you think we ran up the score, all I have to say is that if you can't keep the fourth-string QB from running it in, you deserve to get whipped.
That's a wrap on this one. More tomorrow. Go 'Cocks!