In the wake of South Carolina's wildly inconsistent offensive performance last Thursday in Nashville, many Gamecock fans are looking for reasons the offense only averaged 4.4 yards per play against a Vanderbilt defense that isn't expected to be very good this year. A common culprit so far has been the passing of Connor Shaw. In particular, many questioned his arm strength on a series of throws to start the game.
I've cut those three plays together in the following video clip:
The first play is the interception that Connor Shaw threw to Kenny Ladler on his first pass attempt of the game. Right after it happened, it seemed like Connor Shaw simply didn't put enough zip on the ball but, after looking at the replay, it seems as though the main issue is that Connor Shaw threw the ball a split second too late to hit D.L. Moore on the corner route and, really, probably should have thrown to Justice Cunningham on the out route.
In the image above, you can see the Vanderbilt cornerback at the top of the screen with his hips pointing upfield, where D.L. Moore has just run past. He is in very poor position to defend a ball thrown to Justice Cunningham. The combination of these routes is designed to make the cornerback in a zone defense choose which route to defend. Since the corner went upfield with Moore, Shaw's throw should have been to Cunningham in the flat. Still, if you look at the replay angle, it seems like Shaw might have had a chance at hitting Moore if the ball was released in anticipation of his break rather than after he was already open.
The failed pass to Ellington in the end zone is more simple to diagnose. Again, the ball should have come out sooner, but this time it was also very poorly placed. If Shaw pulls the trigger a split second more quickly and throws the ball about five yards closer to the pylon, this is an easy touchdown catch for Ellington.
The third pass was a target of D.L. Moore that was something of a busted play with Connor Shaw scrambling for his life and Moore streaking downfield in an effort to get open. If Shaw had been able to put more on it, this throw would have resulted in an easy touchdown for Moore. The level of difficultly was high for Shaw on this throw, but there are some quarterbacks who can make it. Heck, maybe Shaw even successfully completes this pass four out of ten times. What, I think, was particularly frustrating about this play is that it is one that we saw Alshon Jeffery make so many times even though he had absolutely no business making it.
Conclusions: For as much fire as the passing game came under on Thursday night, it's important to remember that, out of 11 attempts, Shaw only threw four incomplete passes in Nashville. (The one not covered here came on a near miss to Ace Sanders that was reviewed by the officials, who correctly determined that he used the ground to trap the ball.) It seems like at least some of the more noticeable issues had more to do with timing than arm strength, a suspicion that Steve Spurrier verified in his Sunday teleconference. Sure, it's a little disappointing to see that the passing game isn't picking up quite where it left off in January, but these seem to be mistakes that one would expect to be typical of early season games and that could be easily corrected by the time we get into the heart of the SEC schedule. Of course, maybe this is just confirmation bias on my part. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.