In my first varsity basketball game in high school, I played like absolute crap. I got lost in the flow of the game, had a hard time adjusting to the speed of the game and generally felt lost. Luckily, like the Gamecocks last Thursday, our team was able to pull out a W. By my second game the nerves were gone, I (mostly) knew what to do, and I just had a better feel for the game. Now, I had nowhere near the impact on my team that a starting QB does on a football team, and we were playing in front of about 2,000 people instead of 50,000, but you guys get the point. Your first significant playing time when it counts, especially your first start, can be nerve-wracking. I've been doing my best this week to listen to a lot of the local call in shows around town, and also just hearing the general attitude on campus, and it's pretty incredible how many people think Connor Mitch should never take a significant snap again for USC. I'm going to say it, but I'm a Mitch fan. I think he gives us the best chance to win right now, I believe he has a pretty good arm and underrated mobility. I also think it's pretty wild how quickly people forget how much fanfare this guy came to Carolina with. Being at the game, I just had to chuckle when Perry Orth completed his first two passes and all the fans around me immediately began yelling to just leave him in the game. I have nothing against Perry as I think he is a fine QB that can provide a steadying hand if he ever needs to come in. But he, nor any other QB on the roster, should start a game over Mitch this year in ordinary circumstances. Yea, Mitch was a bit shaky at times against UNC, but let's take a look at our previous four (including Mitch) starting QB's first starts/significant playing time.
|1 INT, 1 fumble
Obviously, out of these four performances, Garcia's debut was the strongest (NOTE: Thompson's stats are not from his first start, but when he came in for a few drives for a injured Connor Shaw in the 2012 opener against Vanderbilt). Against a pretty good LSU team, he accounted for 230 of our team's 254 yards that night. However he did, as freshman making their first start tend to do, threw a late interception on a drive that could've tied the ball game and essentially ended our hopes at an upset that night. By contrast, Connor Shaw's first start was an absolute disaster. His first drive ended in a fumble and he just seemed a little out of touch with the offense that night. Garcia eventually came in to rally the team from a 17-0 deficit to take care of the Pirates. And finally Dylan Thompson's first meaningful gametime wasn't exactly a confidence booster either. Having to come in for an injured Connor Shaw, Dylan Thompson promptly threw three incomplete passes and just looked flat out lost. Luckily for both Connor and Dylan, respectively, they had veteran QB's that could come in and immediately take control of things when it looked pretty bleak.
Last Thursday Mitch didn't have that luxury. In fact other than Pharoh Cooper, Mitch was (and now firmly is) the most experienced passer on the team attempt wise. He also didn't get much help early on as David Williams dropped a couple easy ones out of the backfield and Jerrell Adams had a drop over the middle that would've been about a 15 - 20 yard gain. By no means was Mitch perfect, but it certainly could've been a lot better if he just got a little bit of help from the guys around him. In fact, I think one of Mitch's best passes of the night was an incomplete pass. He threw a beautiful (at least to me) deep ball to Deebo Samuel, he put it where only his guy could get it, and Deebo dropped what would've been a tough catch despite a great throw. He also showed good decision making for the most part as he didn't turn the ball over and he even flashed some surprising mobility as he rushed for 44 yards on 10 carries.
It's a pretty cliche term, but it's one that I've found to be true time and time again. The biggest improvement comes between the first and second games of the season, especially for rookies. Let's look at the second career starts (in Thompson's case his first start, but second game with significant playing time) of the QB's above.
While Garcia had a so-so start in his second full-time game, Shaw and Thompson both exploded onto the scene. To be fair those were pretty bad Kentucky and ECU teams that year, and they also had some pretty good talent to throw to in guys like Alshon Jeffery, Ace Sanders, Bruce Ellington, Rory Anderson etc. So while I don't expect Mitch to explode with 300+ yards passing and 3 or more TD's, I do expect a much more accurate, controlled and composed game from the redshirt sophomore. He's being coached by one of the best QB tutors in history with Steve Spurrier, and he has his share of weapons in Pharoh, Jerrell, and hopefully an emerging Deebo or Terry Googer. Mitch, G.A. Mangus and Spurrier will sit down and look at the tape and correct his mistakes and I fully expect to see a prepared QB take the field this Saturday night at Williams-Brice. If the 5th or 6th week of the season rolls around and we haven't seen any improvement out of Mitch it might be time to start considering other options. But not in the 2nd week of the season. In the words of Aaron Rodgers, everybody just "relax." Expect a steadily improving offense throughout the year, and Connor Mitch is going to be just fine.