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Both Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson to Play in Outback Bowl: A Few Quick Thoughts

Streeter Lecka

Steve Spurrier has announced that although Connor Shaw will start in the Outback Bowl against Michigan, both Shaw and Dylan Thompson will play, with Thompson getting into the game early and potentially often. My feelings are a bit mixed about this. If Shaw is still injured, then I think it's the right move to consider Thompson. Shaw's mobility brings an added dimension to the offense, but if he's going to be limited running the ball, the value he brings is significantly lower. His continued hesitancy to throw the ball down field limits his worth as a pocket passer, and while I'm not fully convinced that Thompson is capable of being an elite passing QB for us, his gunslinger mentality gives us greater potential to have a prolific passing offense. Thompson's value is that he's willing to stand in the pocket, go through his reads, and get the ball out. That makes him an improvement upon a slow-motion Shaw, even if he makes an occasional mistake.

That said, if Shaw is healthy, I think he's probably the way to go. First of all, while Shaw's hesitancy is a liability, he's proven before that he's capable of throwing the ball down field with some degree of effectiveness. He looked good passing against Tennessee and Arkansas, for instance. He's even more dangerous throwing the football when his mobility is at top speed, as that bolsters the run and opens things up for play-action. The other side of the coin is that Thompson still has a lot to prove. He should be commended for making the most of his opportunities this year, and his job against Clemson will go down in Carolina history as one of the most clutch performances in the history of the rivalry. That said, it has to be said that he's yet to prove he can lead this offense against a good defense. ECU and UAB, obviously, don't have elite defenses, and Clemson has one of the worst defenses imaginable for an otherwise good AQ team. Thompson did nothing against the Tigers that hadn't been done by every other offense with a pulse on Clemson's schedule. And really, he could have done better. He skipped a few easy passes in the dirt at his receivers' feet, threw one ugly interception into the end zone, and could have easily thrown a couple more interceptions if Clemson's defensive backs had halfway decent hands. Again, I don't wish to take anything away from a great performance--I'm just pleading for a measured evaluation of what happened.

Of course, if the coaching staff has decided that Thompson is really the guy, then I'll support that decision. After all, Thompson has shown flashes that are worthy of consideration, and at any rate, the coaches have gotten a much closer look at Thompson than we have. However, it sounds like the plan is to start Shaw but to get Thompson in early. That sounds like the staff feels Shaw gives us the best shot, but they want to keep their options open, either because they're not fully confident in Shaw or because they're intrigued by Thompson, or some combination of the two. That part I'm definitely not a fan of. Spurrier has said in the past that he believes it's perfectly fine to have a two-QB system, and he's probably never going to change on that. It's an idea he seems to want to die on, so we should get used to it, if we're not already. However, outside of Dave Johnson and Noah Brindise at UF in the late 1990s, how often has this tactic really worked well for Spurrier? It certainly hasn't been a hit at Carolina. Part of the reason it's problematic, I think, is that it affects team chemistry and the QB's confidence level. Shaw has played tighter most of the times we've gone into a game with the prospect of rotating QBs, and Thompson, too, hasn't seemed as comfortable when he's come off the bench. With that being the case, I think it would be best to choose one of the two and give him the chance to play out the game. If he struggles mightily, then yeah, pull him and give the other guy a shot. But not until then.

Of course, USC isn't paying me the big bucks to field top ten teams, so perhaps my opinion is moot.