Spurrier hopes to spark slugging pass game
By PETE IACOBELLI
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Steve Spurrier hasn't given up on No. 9 South Carolina hitting a few passes, no matter how good the Gamecocks look running the ball or how much Connor Shaw's right arm might hurt.
The Gamecocks coach says South Carolina (1-0) will keep trying to ignite a passing game Saturday against East Carolina (1-0) that was largely missing in its 17-13 opening victory at Vanderbilt. The team managed just 67 yards through the air, an effort Spurrier thought might've been low point of his career.
"We had one of the worst passing nights we've ever had," Spurrier said.
Some of it was the offensive line's poor protection, some was Shaw's injury that made it painful simply to lift his arm let alone hurl a football 40 yards downfield. Still the gun-slinger, though, Spurrier plans to crank things up again at his home opener.
"We'll keep it as is and if we're throwing a bunch of completions, we'll keep firing away," Spurrier said "If not, we're going to the next plan, just like we always do."
The past few seasons, Spurrier's had the perfect Plan B to keep the Gamecocks moving forward with a stellar defense and a ground game that's controlled things the past three seasons.
It worked again at Vanderbilt as Marcus Lattimore rushed for 110 yards and two touchdowns, Shaw added 92 yards rushing despite the injury and the Gamecocks held the Commodores without a touchdown the final 40 minutes to give Spurrier the 198th victory of his college career.
Even though it wasn't pretty, it gave South Carolina a solid Southeastern Conference start.
"I'll start with saying we're 1-0 so that's a plus," offensive lineman Cody Gibson said.
Shaw's status might not be known until kickoff. Spurrier has said if Shaw can't throw or was in pain, he would not play. But Shaw looked calm and relaxed following practice Wednesday, acknowledging he threw the ball some during the workout.
If Shaw can't play, Dylan Thompson will get the start. Thompson had a troubling performance in his few plays against Vanderbilt, going 0 for 3 and getting sacked twice.
Spurrier said it was essential to build up Thompson's confidence this week if he's needed against the Pirates.
East Carolina, though, may not be the right opponent to be using an untested quarterback. Shaw knows that first hand.
A year ago, it was Shaw who got the start when South Carolina and East Carolina opened the season at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. Shaw was not ready and was ineffective as the Gamecocks fell behind 17-0. South Carolina rallied to a 56-37 win behind fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia.
Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill said his players knew they gave away a great chance at victory and have worked the past year to make sure that won't happen again. "What it taught us to bear down in everything we do during the season and the offseason," the coach said.
McNeill followed Shaw's progress last year from backup to starter on a record-setting 11-2 South Carolina team. What stood out, McNeill said, was Shaw's toughness and mistake-free approach to the game. "I expect Connor to be ready to go," he said.
Center T.J. Johnson said the Gamecocks will be confident with any quarterback on the roster, although Shaw looked solid during workouts. "Connor's very optimistic. He's doing well," Johnson said.
If not, the Gamecocks still have Lattimore and that defense to lead the way.
Lattimore, named the SEC's offensive player of the week, showed no ill effects after his first start back from knee surgery last fall that cost him South Carolina's final six games of 2011.
Spurrier has said he'll use Lattimore as often as the Gamecocks need to win the game. That figures to be plenty against East Carolina, which Spurrier thinks will come in knowing how close it came to beating the Gamecocks last season.
"They'll look and see that they had a real good chance to get us last year and they sort of fumbled it away. They really did," Spurrier said. "They'll know that they can play with us very well."
Updated September 7, 2012