By undergoing foot surgery Friday, South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw has detached himself from any spring practice discussion.
Then again, bearing in mind that Steve Spurrier views the spring as mainly an opportunity for the development of younger or less-experienced players, how deeply Shaw would have been involved in the spring was a major question mark, considering he is a rising senior with 20 starts, 3,627 passing yards and 32 touchdowns on his resume.
If anything, it could delay implementation of a two-quarterback system if Spurrier wants to journey that far in the wake of Dylan Thompson’s surprisingly solid season as Shaw’s backup, throwing for 1,027 yards and 10 touchdowns and leading USC to victories over East Carolina and Clemson.
He culminated his year by dramatically tossing the winning 32-yard scoring pass to Bruce Ellington with 11 seconds remaining in the Outback Bowl.
“I’ve certainly coached two in a season before,” an elated Spurrier said after the Outback Bowl. “Usually, you give one the game and if it goes bad and they struggle and something happens, you give another one the opportunity. Then maybe he stays in there for the next game.
“That’s what we’ve tried to do with Dylan. We tried to tell Connor it was his game and it was his game. But Dylan was going to play. He understood that. It worked out beautifully, as it turned out.”
Was the Outback Bowl a forbearer of things to come in terms of how Shaw and Thompson will be utilized in 2013? Both quarterbacks were awarded game balls following the Outback Bowl, supposedly a first in Spurrier’s long coaching career, after they combined to complete 25-of-36 passes for 341 yards and four touchdowns in the electrifying 33-28 win over Michigan.
Thompson took the field during the winning drove when Shaw hobbled off after aggravating his foot injury.
“His foot was bothering him and he sort of hobbled off,” Spurrier said. “Dylan was right there on call. Obviously, we had no hesitation to fire him in there. Both those young men are super team-oriented. There are no jealousies, nothing.
“Dylan went in there and zipped us right down the field, but he knew Connor was coming right back in. And Connor was OK when Dylan went back in. They’re great teammates and wonderful team players.”
Thompson made the throw of his career when he lofted the winning touchdown pass to Ellington a split second before he was walloped by a blitzing Michigan defender.
“That last play, they gambled and rushed five guys, but he took his steps and let it go and Bruce was there,” Spurrier said. “If nobody is down there, throw it, and he threw it down there and Bruce ran right into it.”
In all likelihood, had Spurrier stuck with his philosophy, Shaw’s participation in spring practice would have been limited while Thompson, rising redshirt freshman Brendan Nosovitch and newcomer Connor Mitch took most of the snaps in the 7-on-7 pass skeleton and 11-on-11 full-team drills.
When the spring game arrived in April, Shaw would have quarterbacked a series or two and then headed to the sidelines, his day complete, knowing his job from that point was preparing himself earnestly for the Aug. 31 season opener against border rival North Carolina.
Nosovitch threw for 9,249 yards and 106 touchdown passes during his high school career and led Central Catholic (Pa.) to the PIAA Class AAA state championship as a junior.
Unquestionably, the focus of Spurrier and quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus in the spring will be Nosovitch, who impressed most observers this past season with his performances in “Monday Night Football” and as the scout-team quarterback.
Rated by Rivals.com as the 14th-best pro-style quarterback in the nation, Mitch will enroll at USC when classes start on Jan. 14 and quickly become integrated into the program with early-morning winter workouts.
Mitch led Wakefield (N.C.) High School to an 11-2 record by passing for 4,701 yards and 63 touchdowns this past season. He established state records with 667 passing yards and nine touchdowns in a 70-42 victory over Broughton earlier this season. He has the three highest single-game passing totals ever in the NCHSAA.
“He is a great pro-type drop-back passer who makes great decisions with the ball,” Wakefield coach Rod Sink recently told The Raleigh News and Observer. “He is a great passer, of course, but he is a better athlete than you might think. He was sacked only about 10 times this season and it helped that he could move in the pocket. He had the combination of being able to throw where he wanted and knowing where he wanted to throw.”
The decision by Tanner McEvoy to transfer in August, together with the departures of Andrew Clifford and Seth Strickland, means that Nosovitch will likely enter the 2013 season as the No. 3 quarterback behind Shaw and Thompson, while Mitch will be No. 4 on the depth chart.