Connor Shaw will be the starting quarterback for South Carolina on Saturday when the team plays a crucial SEC East contest against Missouri, but how long will the dual-threat be able to remain on the field?
With Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier maintaining that Shaw will not alter the way he plays in light of yet another shoulder injury suffered last weekend against UAB, is the 6-1, 207-pounder durable enough to handle the rushing load that he usually carries when he's 100 percent healthy?
The junior has come out of his last two games after initially suffering a hairline fracture in his throwing shoulder in the August 30 season opener at Vanderbilt. Spurrier has said Shaw looked fine throwing the football in practice this week, but what happens when Shaw takes another hard hit to the shoulder, which is expected to happen sooner rather than later in the rugged SEC?
Running back Marcus Lattimore may be the Gamecocks' best offensive player, but Shaw arguably is the team's most important because of his dual-threat capabilities. When he is healthy, defenses have to be aware of his threat as a very good runner. When he is on the sideline, the Gamecocks lose that dimension. And while backup Dylan Thompson has shown that he can step in and be an effective passer, as shown in his standout performance in a 48-10 win over East Carolina in Week 2, he is nowhere near the rushing threat as Shaw. So more pressure will fall on the shoulders of Lattimore and the Gamecocks' traditional rushing attack.
Spurrier has hinted that Thompson could be used at times to give Shaw a rest. He also knows that the offense isn't as effective if Shaw is tentative or limited on the ground. If Shaw is healthy enough to start, he will be healthy enough to play to his strengths, according to the Head Ball Coach. If not, Spurrier believes that the team's depth at quarterback can be beneficial.
There's no question that Spurrier has no problem playing two quarterbacks. After all, he's done it at both South Carolina and Florida. Because of Shaw's injury woes this season, Spurrier should be prepared to play the majority of the game without his dual-threat if worse comes to worse.
Thompson has thrown for 507 yards and five touchdowns in relief of Shaw the past two games, and Spurrier said he would consider using him against Mizzou this week if he believes he can help the team win. But Shaw's running ability has given this offense a new dimension, especially since he was given the starting job last year. Fans just have to look at his 92 rushing yards against Vanderbilt and his directing the game-clinching touchdown drive in South Carolina's tight 17-13 season-opening victory to appreciate his value.
Of course, Thompson gives the Gamecocks a vertical passing threat that they don't quite have in Shaw, prompting some to believe that a two-quarterback system is in the team's best interest.
That's the option that Spurrier may have to seriously ponder, especially knowing that one hit to Shaw could alter his game plan significantly.
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