COLUMBIA, SC (Gamecock Central) - With each passing day, the chances of Connor Shaw starting at quarterback for South Carolina on Saturday night against Kentucky improve dramatically.
A day after contending he would take a 'wait and see' approach before determining the starter, Steve Spurrier hinted Wednesday that Shaw would be the guy when the Gamecock offense trots onto the Williams-Brice Stadium turf for the first time to face the Kentucky defense.
"Connor should be ready to play this Saturday night," Spurrier said during his weekly appearance on the SEC teleconference. "He was out throwing the ball around very well (Tuesday)."
Shaw exited last Saturday's 28-25 victory over UCF midway through the first quarter after suffering a sprained shoulder running the football on the Gamecocks' eight offensive snap. Dylan Thompson filled in for the rest of the game and completed 15-of-32 passes for 261 yards.
Sunday, Spurrier told local reporters during his weekly post-game teleconference that Shaw would likely be sidelined two to three weeks based on information given to him by the USC medical staff.
However, Shaw practiced Monday night and was throwing 55-yard passes, Spurrier said during his press conference on Tuesday, marveling at the senior's toughness. Apparently, that scenario repeated itself in Tuesday's practice.
Shaw, who is 20-4 (.833) as a starting quarterback, including a perfect 12-0 mark at home, is the only quarterback in school history to throw for more than 4,000 yards and run for over 1,000 yards in his career. USC's all-time leader in completion percentage (66.5), Shaw has thrown 118 consecutive passes without an interception.
Should he play Saturday night, Shaw will face a Kentucky defense ranked second in the SEC in passing defense (175.0 points per game) and third in third-down conversion defense (32.7 percent). However, the Wildcats are vulnerable to the run (13th in SEC allowing 200.8 rushing yards per game) and have surrendered an average of 23.2 points per game, eighth in the SEC.
Moreover, in spite of their lofty pass defense ranking, Kentucky is 12th in the SEC in passing efficiency defense (136.9 rating) as opposing quarterbacks are completing 66 percent (62-of-94) of their passes against UK with five touchdown passes and only one interception, which is tied for fewest in the conference.
"Kentucky is a team that has struggled a bit this year, which was expected," Spurrier said. "(Head coach) Mark Stoops and his staff have done an excellent job. Their players are playing extremely hard. The defense has played very tough all year for them. Their offense has struggled at times. They are very capable of coming in here and beating us. We have to be ready."
With Thompson calling signals, USC depended heavily on the old-fashioned I-formation to reverse their sagging offensive fortunes following a scoreless first half against UCF. Mike Davis tops the SEC in rushing average (127 yards per game; 508 yards in four games) and is second is total yardage behind freshman Alex Collins of Arkansas (597 yards in five games).
Will USC utilize the same strategy again?
"Certainly, it's helpful to just be able to run the ball and make yards," Spurrier said. "Those long runs are a huge bonus for us. Just being able to run off-tackle and a guy goes 75 yards for a touchdown like Mike did against North Carolina. Last week, we're down 10-0 and we don't know what's going to happen in the second half. Then Mike breaks about a 55-yarder (53 yards) for a TD that got us right back in the game.
"It gives you a chance a win when you can run the ball and you have a running back like Mike Davis."