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August 26, 2011

Shaw ready if call comes



He'll play, or so Steve Spurrier says, when the season begins in a scant eight days.

How much is up to Spurrier, and going forward, up to how well Connor Shaw plays.

Note, that's "plays," not "practices." Shaw has been at South Carolina for two full springs, one full season and is only a few practices short of two full preseasons. Coaches, teammates, fans, everyone knows what he'll show in practice.

Stephen Garcia, the No. 12 Gamecocks' incumbent starter who is facing competition for the starting job - or so Steve Spurrier says - has never been a consistent A-plus performer in practice. But the way he can command a game, make a momentum-turning play and truly lead in the way his position dictates, has given him the advantage when it comes to making the decision on who starts in the game.

A starter for the Sept. 3 season-opener hasn't been decided on (or so Steve Spurrier says). Garcia and Shaw say they're treating it just like a normal situation from the past two years - there is competition, each supports the other, each wants to do what is best for the team.

Easy for Garcia to say, since he remains the most experienced quarterback by a wide margin. Easy for Shaw to say, because one gets the sense he earnestly does want what's best for the team, no matter what his personal feelings may be.

But there has to be that tiny spark in him, right? He's human, isn't he?

He does want to start?

"I feel like I can, but we'll see when I get in that kind of atmosphere," Shaw says, showing a minute crack in the wall.

He has his coach's support, Spurrier saying several times that Shaw can make all the throws. What it comes down to is what it usually does come down to when playing quarterback under Spurrier - being as good as he was.

"He struggles at times, as all our quarterbacks do," Spurrier recently said. "Sometimes he just needs to get rid of the ball."

Shaw's action last year was mostly on the run, the then-freshman often tucking and abandoning the pass route because the play didn't develop quickly enough. It became his main foible, although simply being on the field for nine of 14 games was a bonus.

"Last year helped me tremendously," Shaw said. "I always go back to that first Auburn game. That game, I felt like I was immune to everything else."

That was the (in)famous game when Garcia, after fumbling twice in the fourth quarter with USC only trailing eight points, was yanked in favor of Shaw, who looked good directing the team downfield. Until he threw two interceptions in that same agonizing fourth quarter, the last just off Alshon Jeffery's fingertips that the Tigers' Demond Washington snatched before it hit the turf.

Still, it gave Shaw the necessary experience and feel for playing in a hostile environment after three straight home games to start the year. He was able to build on that and get the "jitters" clause out of his mental makeup for down the road.

Down the road is here. Shaw knows he'll probably be a backup, but that the opportunity for him to start is there. He's no longer the wet-behind-the-ears freshman dealing with a new system, new coach, new team, new home.

"You're kind of shell-shocked," he said, describing his first go-round. "Now, I'm much more relaxed, more comfortable, I feel like I've been here for a few years. It will be interesting this year and I'm looking forward to it."

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