COLUMBIA — For one game, South Carolina’s head ball coach showed off his old game plan.
Steve Spurrier said Sunday he was pleased that backup quarterback Dylan Thompson got the ball away and finally gave Gamecock receivers the chance to make plays.
“It was better than what we’ve done in a long time,” said Spurrier, in his eighth season with the Gamecocks (2-0). “But it was nice to just get the ball out. You don’t how many passes I’ve called here when the ball didn’t get out.”
That certainly wasn’t the problem in No. 8 South Carolina’s 48-10 victory over East Carolina (1-1) on Saturday. Thompson, playing for injured starter Connor Shaw, completed 21 of 37 passes for 330 yards. The Gamecocks finished with 397 yards passing, the most since quarterback Steve Taneyhill threw for a school record 473 yards against Mississippi State in 1995.
South Carolina managed only 67 yards passing a week earlier in a 17-13 win at Vanderbilt, the game where Shaw banged up his throwing shoulder. He re-entered the game after injury and led the Gamecocks on a fourth-quarter touchdown drive.
Shaw barely practiced in the week leading up to East Carolina, leaving Spurrier little choice but to go with the untested sophomore in Thompson.
Maybe it wasn’t as big a gamble as many fans thought. Spurrier said Thompson had a confidence during Friday’s walk-through and Saturday’s pregame that gave the coach’s hope for a big game.
“He had a look in his eye, ’Hey coach, just call the plays, I can handle it,”’ Spurrier said. “And he pretty much did.”
After Marcus Lattimore tied the school record with his 33rd career touchdown to open South Carolina’s scoring, Thompson hit tight end Rory Anderson for a 7-yard TD pass, DeAngelo Smith on a 30-yard TD pass and D.L. Moore on a 29-yard TD pass to put the Gamecocks ahead 28-0.
South Carolina completed passes to 11 different receives as the passing game — Lattimore finished with 40 yards on 13 carries — took center stage.
“It was a good, positive day for the Gamecocks and especially for Dylan,” Spurrier said.
The Gamecocks have had unprecedented success under Spurrier the past two seasons, reaching the Southeastern Conference title game as Eastern Division champs in 2010 and winning a program-record 11 games a year ago. The only thing missing for Spurrier?
A dependable passing game, something Spurrier’s loved since his Heisman Trophy winning days as Florida’s charismatic quarterback.
Shaw’s strength has been his legs and the ability to make significant yards on the ground after the Gamecocks offense spreads out, or the play breaks down.
Yet, Spurrier has regularly complained his quarterbacks don’t always get the pass away when called. It’s something that’s vexed him since coming here after the 2004 season.
So how easy will it be for Spurrier to go back to Shaw and not give Thompson the chance to put on another South Carolina air show? Spurrier said Saturday that Shaw was the starter and would return to the job when healthy.
“I don’t think we should forget what a great player Connor is,” Thompson said.
Shaw, a junior, is 9-1 as a starter and stabilized an offense last season stung by the dual losses of fifth-year senior quarterback Stephen Garcia’s dismissal and Lattimore to a mid-season knee injury.
Still, Spurrier said Shaw was unlikely to try any serious practice until Wednesday, meaning Thompson could be in line for a second straight start when South Carolina takes on Alabama-Birmingham at home next Saturday night.
For Spurrier, that’s wait and see.
“We don’t know until we start playing the ballgames,” the coach said. “We don’t know if Connor’s got an injury that’s going to take him out of two, three ball games. What Dylan proved is he can play when needed.”