I have been thinking all week about the angle I wanted to take in this post. All the discussion over South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw’s relative health is a very important conversation to the SC fanbase, and meaningful, too. Of course you want your starting quarterback to play because he is your starter…duh. Presumably, your team will operate better with the starter in the lineup.
But for ECU, does it really matter? It seems to me that history clearly shows that when it comes to opposing quarterbacks, ECU always fares better against the guy they know will be playing. We have made career highs for vagabond back-up QBs a norm in our history. Good Lord…it seems like every team that we play with a back-up under center carves us up. Look at last year and USC for example. We planned on Shaw and spanked him hard…he looked like a HS QB in there and we were off to the races. They put in the Stephen Garcia – Steve Spurrier’s disposable ace in the hole for that game – and he looked like an all-America and rallied the Gamecocks.
For me, I hope to God that Shaw is in the line-up for a lot of reasons. First, our kids have confidence that they can check him. Second, he is not a feared passer – I know the SC fans have been going on and on and on about his passer ratings over the last four games a year ago, but c’mon, he wasn’t exactly a passer. He threw the ball enough times to have a rating and he did OK. But, don’t kid yourself…his high passer rating is related to a couple of things: 1) They ran the ball early in games and held leads late; 2) for this reason, they utilized a conservative passing attack…safe and good for passer ratings (see perspective on this stat).
Shaw IS a good quarterback and adept at running the offense – and kills teams more with his legs than his arm. To say otherwise is a ridiculous. And this season, he doesn’t have Alshon Jeffery to go up and grab a 51-yard Hail Mary to drastically enhance an otherwise good but not stellar passing line.
A great example of the “passer rating” mumbo jumbo is one of those last four games (let’s not count The Citadel). But the win over Florida…looks great on paper but it was a classic example. The Gamecocks pounded a mediocre Florida team (5-5 and 3-5 SEC) with a running game – that Shaw definitely contributed to. But the Gamecocks were up 14-3 at half with 160 rushing yards in the book. Once Florida loaded the box and the Gamecocks had to rely on the nation’s best passer rating QB over the last four games, what happened? Florida rallied and the Gamecocks slipped out with a 17-12 win (note, no TDs after the half). Conservative play calling + early leads = nice passer rating.
Back to the point. The WHOLE Shaw drama is a sideshow…not even that big of a deal in the context of the game itself.
Everyone knows that ECU is going to load the box on defense and hope that we can get pressure on Shaw in the passing game. If he can’t be the great passing QB that the SC fans are hyping him to be, then ECU will have a very good chance, providing our offensive line can manage enough plays to allow for a score or two against that stellar front seven. If he has a sore shoulder…well then…he needs to know that he is going to get hit hard.
Offensively, I am not so much worried about sacks – as our scheme limits that - as much as I am worried that Rio Johnson will lock onto his first reads only and not execute. If he can get through his progression, I think we have the outside speed to get by USC’s secondary and stretch them out a bit. This will allow us to run via the air with the short passing game. Two 5-yard completions moves the stick every series.
Look this is a tall task for our team, but USC is beatable. Will ECU roll up a ton of points – not counting on it. But, I do think SC will also struggle to romp the scoreboard. If both teams do not turn over the ball and both teams play even in special teams…it has the markings of a slugfest offensively and that favors SC and its powerful running game.
That said, we all know that turnovers are going to happen and USC can afford them more than we can. We are going to have to generate a big play or two defensively and we are going to need a big play or two with our Special Teams to allow for the reasonable expectations of our offense. Personally, I think our Offense is going to be fortunate to put 14-21 points on the board by its own merit. We are going to need our Defense to come through and set up an easy score or two by providing a very short field or a defensive TD like last week. Further, we are going to need field position via special teams as well. And our PK has to hit his opportunities.
South Carolina is good, but they are by know means somehow an elite team now.
Fortunately our kids are familiar with them and have no fears or awe there.
So, with this in mind, I desperately want Shaw to start. We do not need an untested passer coming in and making like a Heisman candidate ala our find tradition with opposing backup QBs.
Rather, load up the front defensively with two things in mind: 1) zero in on Marcus Lattimore (ala last year) and ensure that every time Shaw runs the ball, he gets stuck hard. If he beats us with his arm…more power to him and Gamecocks, but if we do not take away the running game, we have no chance. And I don’t think Shaw possesses the passing ability to destroy us in the air.
Our front 7 IS capable of putting clamps on the running game. So, Mr. Shaw, air it out please…because if you do, it means our plan is working and we will be in the game.