This post continues our series on the best plays of last season. Today, we're talking about Connor Shaw's long TD pass to Bruce Ellington that put the Gamecocks up 10-0 early against Clemson. Here's the play:
Connor Shaw 49-yard Touchdown to Bruce Ellington vs. Clemson (via GameDayESPN)
Why It's Here: I absolutely love this play. Although I can't call it the best of the season for reasons I mention below, it's probably my personal favorite. It first of all gets points for being the most memorable play in the rivalry game. Moreover, seeing things like this is in the passing game was one of the reasons we were excited about the Spurrier hire, but, for various reasons, they've been a rare occurrence during his tenure. When Shaw took over at QB mid-season, I expected that we'd see more of this, as all the practices reports I've read have touted Shaw's accuracy on the deep ball, particularly in contrast to that of Stephen Garcia, who typically couldn't hit this kind of throw. However, outside of a few glimpses in the Kentucky game, we didn't get much of a look at Shaw's ability to hit the long ball in his first few games as full-time starter, partially because our line couldn't protect him, and partially because Shaw tended to take off running at the first sign of the pocket collapsing. On this play, you see major improvement in Shaw's pocket presence. Andre Branch, who had sacked Shaw earlier in the game, gets around Rok Watkins, but instead of panicking, Shaw steps up in the pocket as Branch overpursues and is pushed out of the play. Shaw keeps his eyes downfield, sees Ellington breaking, and delivers a perfect pass that hits his open receiver in stride. Note that this is probably incomplete if the ball is even slightly underthrown, as Ellington only had a step on the coverage. The pass is right where it needs to be, though, and the rout is on. I think you're going to see more of this in 2012.
Why It's Not Higher: In short, this game wasn't very close, and although you could argue that this play turned psychology in our favor, we probably win without it. Clemson only challenged briefly in the first half, and the rest of the game was a rout. Even if we had gone into halftime with a tie or down a TD, we would have pulled it out late due to our clear advantage in the trenches.