COLUMBIA — South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier doesn’t want to hear about the Gamecocks’ passing struggles, a botched pass-interference call late in the game against Vanderbilt or whether quarterback Connor Shaw’s head-first slides led to the injury that might keep him out of this week’s game.
Spurrier said Tuesday what matters is No. 9 South Carolina played hard down the stretch and opened Southeastern Conference play with a 17-13 road victory over the Commodores.
The Gamecocks’ attack wasn’t pretty. They finished with just 67 yards passing – last in the Southeastern Conference among teams that played – and again relied on rushing and defense to pull out the win.
“I want our fans to realize we are not as bad as maybe some people think we are,” Spurrier said Tuesday.
Spurrier was among the skeptics early on, disappointed and humbled with his team’s offensive struggles. Then he got a call from longtime friend Bob Stoops, coach of fifth-ranked Oklahoma. Stoops offered the wide-angle, big picture view.
“He went on to say, ‘It’s a conference game. You’re on the road, team fired up,’ this, that and the other, quarterback got knocked out in the second quarter. Came back and put a drive together in the fourth quarter to score and put another drive or two together to run off over 10 minutes in the fourth quarter,” Spurrier recounted.
Spurrier also brushed off the controversy of safety D.J. Swearinger’s coverage on Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews. Replays showed Swearinger grabbing Matthews’ arm before the ball arrived on the fourth-down pass that proved to be Vanderbilt’s final play. Spurrier called Swearinger’s effort “outstanding.”
“You know the defensive guy has the right to go for the ball as well as the offensive guy, so that’s a very close call,” Spurrier explained. “Maybe the tape showed (Swearinger’s) hand hit (Matthews’s) hand, but I thought it was an outstanding play and people making a big deal out of that one, I don’t think they should.”
The biggest deal for Spurrier this week as the Gamecocks prepare for the home opener against East Carolina (1-0) is the health of starting quarterback Shaw.
Shaw suffered a deep bone bruise when he was hit in the second quarter on one of his 14 carries. Shaw couldn’t lift his right, throwing arm Sunday, according to Spurrier, and won’t practice until Wednesday. If Shaw’s in pain and can’t pass effectively, backup Dylan Thompson will start against the Pirates.
East Carolina coach Ruffin McNiell doesn’t need an injury to report to know chances are good the tough-minded Shaw will see action.
“I’m a ‘CK,’ coach’s kid, just like Connor is,” McNeill said by phone. “He’s a tough hombre and if he can play, he’ll be back in there. I expect Connor to be back ready to go. If not, coach Spurrier has other quarterbacks who can run their system.”
Despite the pain, Shaw finished with 92 yards rushing. He was 4 of 5 passing in the second half.
Shaw’s strength is his running ability and a big reason the Gamecocks won seven of eight games after he took over as starting quarterback last season. Spurrier coaches all his players to get down head first instead of sliding baseball style didn’t see anything unusual on the second-quarter hit when Shaw came up in pain.
Spurrier said the Vanderbilt player kneed Shaw by accident. When Spurrier saw Shaw hurting, he thought, “ ‘How in the world did he get hurt on that play?’ ” Spurrier said. “There was no smash or anything, but it just sort of happened.”
Football is a game of collisions and nothing is 100 percent certain to prevent risk of injuries, the coach said. Shaw slid feet-first in South Carolina’s Capital One Bowl victory over Nebraska, and got speared in the head by an opposing player.
“I think the way he is running and getting down is the way you’re supposed to do it,” Spurrier said.
Thompson, the backup quarterback, took eight snaps during Shaw’s absence and went 0-for-3 passing and was sacked twice. Spurrier acknowledged Thompson’s confidence took a hit, too, and the staff will need to build that up if he’s to play Saturday.
“We’re trying to pump him up a little bit and he’s getting a lot of snaps now,” the coach said. No matter who’s at quarterback, expect Spurrier to lean heavily – again – on tailback Marcus Lattimore.
The junior ran for two touchdowns and 110 yards. He was named the SEC’s offensive player of the week.
“We didn’t play as great as we could have, but we still got the win,” Gamecocks offensive lineman Cody Gibson said. “That was week one. Week two, I think we’ll get a lot better.”