“It’s been a hell of a ride.”
That’s how Gamecocks QB Connor Shaw summed up his career after Saturday night’s win over Clemson. The victory kept Shaw’s record at home perfect (17-0) and made him 27-5 overall as USC’s starter. He holds the distinction of being the winningest quarterback in school history, just another accolade in a long list.
Let’s take a look back at how he reached those achievements.
Shaw played sparingly as a freshman in 2010, but got the nod for the season opener against ECU in 2011. The general consensus of people on the internet seemed to be confusion, considering Shaw hadn’t blown anyone away in his limited appearances. He struggled against the Pirates, and Stephen Garcia came in to right the ship and lead the Cocks to victory.
Fast forward about a month, after Garcia looked woeful against Auburn and South Carolina lost a heartbreaker, and Garcia was subsequently dismissed from the program after failing a substance test. Shaw became the starting QB by default, launched into a somewhat tumultuous situation. He responded by having a field day against Kentucky, throwing for more than 300 yards in a 54-3 rout. Sure, the Wildcats were a cellar dweller and the game was at Williams-Brice, but still. It was an impressive performance that had to give Shaw – and his teammates – a lot of confidence going forward.
The team went on to win at Mississippi State (thanks to a late touchdown pass from Shaw to Alshon Jeffery) and at Tennessee before falling at Arkansas. They finished the season at home beating Florida, The Citadel, and Clemson, before receiving a bid to the Capital One Bowl, where Shaw again led the team to victory, earning their first bowl win in about a decade, and after three straight years of failing miserably in their postseason showing.
Despite the fact that Shaw proved more and more with every game that he was a capable leader, he still had doubters. The 2012 season began on the road at Vanderbilt, and no Gamecocks player looked particularly impressive. Shaw sustained a shoulder injury during the game – and though he looked severely hurt – he gutted it out, and South Carolina barely escaped Nashville with a win.
Shaw sat out the next game, against ECU, and backup Dylan Thompson took the reigns. He was really, really good, which prompted QB controversy discussions on the interwebs. Shaw was back for the next game, against UAB, but he reinjured his shoulder. That left him questionable for the upcoming game at Missouri, but he ended up being good to go and had a spectacular day, completing 20 passes in a row, as the Cocks pounded the Tigers.
USC topped Kentucky and, in a huge game with the GameDay crew in Columbia, blew out Georgia. Their perfect season ended next week on the Bayou against LSU, and lost again in a stinker against Florida the next weekend. Both games had been winnable and were disappointing to say the least, but the Gamecocks rallied at the end of the season with victories over Tennessee, Arkansas, Wofford. They also bested Clemson for the fourth year in a row, but had to do it without Shaw, who couldn’t shake the injury bug. Fortunately, Thompson had another tremendous night, and South Carolina headed to the Outback Bowl.
Most people remember that game for Jadeveon Clowney’s massive hit, but Shaw and Thompson combined to lead their team to victory. Shaw marched the guys down the field on their last drive of the game, before his nagging injury forced him to the sidelines. The win gave the Cocks their second straight 11-win season, and the season gave a lot of people a lot of confidence in Connor.
The 2013 season got off to a good start, with Shaw and USC beating UNC, but they lost to Georgia the next week, which was sort of a downer. That was followed by wins over Vandy, Central Florida (a game in which Shaw was injured and Thompson had to play), Kentucky, and Arkansas. Tennessee was up next, and in a dud of a game, Carolina not only lost, but Shaw’s knee was hurt. With a game on the road at undefeated Missouri up next, things looked bleak. Thompson and the South Carolina offense couldn’t get anything going in two and a half quarters against the Tigers, so Shaw, who had told the coaches before the game that he could play if necessary, came in to save the day (night).
With only one good leg and also ailing from the flu, Connor brought the Gamecocks all the way back to tie the game at 17 -17 and send it to overtime. After Mizzou found the end zone, Shaw led another scoring drive in the first extra period to send the game to double OT. In what will forever be known as the Miracle at Missouri, Elliott Fry’s field goal kick was good, Andrew Baggett’s wasn’t, and Shaw and his team came away with a huge victory.
As we all know, the Cocks went on to win the remainder of their games this season, including beating Clemson for the fifth year in a row. The win was extra special for Shaw, as it came on Senior Night, and a night where he had a masterful performance.
Shaw will be remembered for many things, and has cemented his role in South Carolina football lore in multiple ways. The stats and records he racked up are certainly impressive, and will ensure that No. 14 is in the record books forever. His showing at Missouri was nothing short of heroic, and must have inspired all of his teammates to want to play their best, no matter what.
But what catapults Connor past hero status and right up to legend is his character. Coming in after the Garcia era, proving himself both at home and on the road, and doing it all while being a seemingly good guy with an insane amount of determination, drive and sheer will, makes him truly special. He has always been humble, thankful and respectable, and those traits, along with his ability to manage and win games, have endeared him to Gamecock Nation.
In many games, Connor Shaw was not the most athletically gifted player on the field. I would argue, though, that he was the most committed to getting the most out of the skill he did have. People often complained early on that he ran too much, and maybe he did, but his willingness to do whatever it took to get his team a victory is commendable.
We’ve been incredibly fortunate as fans to watch Shaw play over the past few years. He said he almost teared up on Saturday night, and I definitely cried when his name was called. There’s a 100 percent chance I’ll shed some tears after the bowl game, when his career as a Gamecock has come to an end, too.
Carolina will take the field once more this season, likely in either the Cotton Bowl or the Capital One Bowl, so we’ll get one more chance to see Shaw under center. But since his final game at Williams-Brice has come and gone, I just want to say thank you. Thank you, Connor, for leading USC to three fantastic seasons. Thank you for representing the University of South Carolina extremely well, both on and off the field. Thank you, Connor, for fighting until the end, never giving up, much like gamecocks, the animal kind, are known to do. Thank you, Connor, for never giving up, for giving your all, and for giving us all someone to be proud of.