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South Carolina Football: Checking in on Connor Shaw

Now that he's started five straight games and has had a chance to show us what he can do against some decent SEC competition, it's time to check in on the development of our starting QB, Connor Shaw. It seems to be hard for people to talk objectively about Shaw because of the strong feelings a lot of folks have for Stephen Garcia, so I'd like to take a moment to try to provide what I think is an objective view of Shaw.

First, let's briefly look at the key stats. On the season, Shaw has a passer rating of 119. By comparison, that's roughly the same as what Garcia had in 2009, Garcia's RS sophomore year. (Shaw is also a sophomore, although Shaw didn't redshirt.) Shaw is throwing for a high percentage at 62%, but he's throwing for a somewhat pedestrian 5.9 ypa, a number that, you have to remember, would be much, much worse if we took out the Kentucky game. This stat serves as a reminder that the Gamecocks lack a quality downfield passing game right now, and that--along with the lack of TDs--is what keeps Shaw's passer rating from being a bit better.

Where Shaw has really excelled is with his feet. He's currently third on the team with 288 yards rushing; one would imagine that he would have easily broken 500 or 600 yards on the year if he had played all season, which would be pretty good for a QB. That's even more impressive considering that in college, sacks count against rushing totals. Passer rating doesn't count rushing numbers, but if it did, Shaw would probably be in a pretty respectable range.

Continue reading after the jump.

There are a few things that I think Shaw does well. The thing that he's best at is running the zone-read. He makes good reads on these types of plays; as you probably noticed, he and Brandon Wilds had Florida guessing quite a bit last week. He's also fast enough to make tacklers pay if they make a mistake. He's not a very big runner, so you won't get to see him barrel over anybody, particularly right now, when Carolina is being very protective due to depth issues. However, he's tougher than one might expect based on his size.

Passing the ball, one of his biggest strengths appears to be his accuracy. With a few exceptions, I've been impressed with his touch down field. The completion to Ace Sanders this past weekend was a thing of beauty, and the pass to Jason Barnes might have been good, too, if not for a skilled play by the covering corner. Shaw does need to work on adjusting his touch on some of the shorter passes, which will hopefully come with experience.

Shaw's biggest weakness is his decision-making. I was impressed by Shaw's ability to read the defense against Kentucky, but since then, that skill has not been on display. Shaw doesn't force many balls, mind you, which was Garcia's big problem. However, Shaw oftentimes seems to make a single read before taking off running. That's partly the offensive line's fault, and sometimes Shaw even makes a nice gain out of it, but, sometimes, Shaw would be well served to step up in the pocket and see if he can find the short man.

Inevitably, Shaw is going to be compared to Garcia, and that's fair as long as people keep their heads about them. I partially opened by comparing Shaw to 2009 Garcia because, IMO, he's fairly similar--probably slightly better. 2009 Garcia was a bit more of a playmaker, but Shaw is a bit better runner and is less likely to hurt you with interceptions. 2010 Garcia, at least the version that showed up against Auburn, Alabama, Florida, and Clemson, was definitely better than this year's version of Shaw, but Shaw has a lot of time to develop into that caliber of QB. I don't know if Shaw has as much potential as Garcia once had, as Shaw lacks the size, strength, and natural talent, hence his lower ranking in high school. However, a lot of Shaw's current flaws can be addressed with more experience, so he certainly has some upside right now. And the good news for Gamecocks fans is that Shaw has continuously shown that he's precisely the kind of QB to devote himself to bettering his game.