Steve Spurrier confident in Connor Shaw

Steve Spurrier confident in Connor Shaw

August 1st, 2012 by David Paschall in Sports - College

South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Camp start: Friday

Opener: Vanderbilt in Nashville (Aug. 30 on ESPN at 7:30 p.m.)

Fun fact: The Gamecocks were 0-12 against the quartet of Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Clemson during their final three seasons under Lou Holtz (2002-04). They were 8-0 against that foursome the past two years under Steve Spurrier.

It took coach Steve Spurrier six years at South Carolina to win the Southeastern Conference's East Division football title. It took him seven years to set a program standard with 11 single-season victories.

It has taken him eight to trust a quarterback.

After suffering through the inconsistencies of Blake Mitchell, Chris Smelley and especially Stephen Garcia, the hard-to-appease Spurrier found signal-calling satisfaction late last season with Connor Shaw. In closing wins over The Citadel, Clemson and Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, Shaw completed 41 of 55 passes (74.5 percent) for 657 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception.

"It is a little bit of peace of mind," Spurrier said at SEC media days. "All our guys have played pretty well at times, but we didn't have that real consistent game after game after game quarterbacking. Connor is a guy who when a play breaks down, he can run for the first down.

"That is so important, because you can't call every play perfectly. Tim Tebow used to do it all the time at Florida -- come running out of there, make a first down and keep going."

Shaw, a 6-foot-1, 207-pound junior from Flowery Branch, Ga., completed 65.4 percent of his passes last season, and he rushed 135 times for 525 yards and eight touchdowns. In South Carolina's 34-13 rout of Clemson, the third consecutive state championship for the Gamecocks, Shaw completed 14 of 20 passes for 210 yards and three touchdowns and rushed 19 times for 107 yards and a score.

With 230 passing yards and two touchdowns against the Cornhuskers in Orlando, Shaw continued to alter the label of being a run-first quarterback, and he is hoping to continue the transformation.

"I'm not going to take my legs away from me, because I think that is a key asset to my abilities," Shaw said, "but I am definitely going to rely more on my arm than my legs."

A dual-threat quarterback who threw for 3,100 yards and 30 touchdowns as a senior at Flowery Branch High School, Shaw was a three-star prospect who graduated in December 2009 and enrolled early in Columbia. His arrival coincided with South Carolina's collapse during the '09 season, when a hapless showing by Garcia in the Papajohns.com Bowl helped lead to a fourth loss in five games.

Spurrier was always quick to express his frustration with Garcia as well as his predecessors, so Shaw was aware of what he was getting into.

"He's a great coach to play for," Shaw said. "He's been there, done that as a quarterback, and he's won a Heisman Trophy. He's won a national championship as a coach, and it's a privilege to play for him. There are going to be rough patches down the road when he will critique you, but you have to expect that.

"Plus, my father was my coach in high school, and he is very similar to Coach Spurrier. I idolized Coach Spurrier growing up, and when he showed up to the high school and offered me a scholarship, that pretty much did it for me."

Shaw, who started last season's opener against East Carolina but struggled and had to regain the job in the sixth game against Kentucky, is one of seven offensive starters returning for the Gamecocks. Included on that list is junior tailback Marcus Lattimore, who has rushed for 2,015 yards through two seasons but tore his ACL in the seventh game a year ago against Mississippi State.

The Gamecocks have six starters back from one of the nation's top-five defenses a year ago, and they expect to be stout again with ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor and safeties D.J. Swearinger and DeVonte Holloman.

"We have high expectations and feel pretty confident we can accomplish them," Shaw said. "We have a pretty good team this year, and we've had a good offseason."

The biggest challenge facing the Gamecocks after attaining their first top-10 finish in the Associated Press poll is their schedule. South Carolina has the toughest division crossover with games against LSU and Arkansas, two teams that finished in the top five.

At least Spurrier can face those tasks with a quarterback he believes in.

"Connor is a little different, and our whole style of offense is different than in years past," Spurrier said. "He's been around football his whole life and is pretty much dedicated to that. He doesn't have a lot of outside interests other than to be the best quarterback he can to help our team win games and be successful and hopefully win the SEC."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524