CLEMSON, S.C. — It’s tough to get your first serious action at quarterback when everybody’s watching – just ask Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and South Carolina’s Connor Shaw.
The two sophomores, who each entered the season with plenty of doubters after spotty early showings, square off Saturday night as first-time starters in the Palmetto State’s biggest sports rivalry when No. 18 Clemson (9-2) travels to No. 14 South Carolina (9-2).
Boyd was thrust into this game a year ago with the Tigers trailing and starter Kyle Parker ineffective, and he was rattled around on the state’s biggest stage. He was sacked three times in Clemson’s 29-7 loss, the worst hit coming in the fourth quarter when cracked by Gamecocks defensive end Cliff Matthews on fourth down.
“Everybody remembers the hit. You wake up, look in the paper and my helmet’s over there and the ball’s over there,” said Boyd, pointing in opposite directions.
Shaw showed up on the radar a year ago, too, entering South Carolina’s 35-27 loss at Auburn in the final quarter and throwing two interceptions down the stretch to halt the Gamecocks’ rally. He spent most of the rest of the season on the sideline as starter Stephen Garcia led South Carolina to wins over Alabama, Tennessee and Florida – and the Southeastern Conference title game.
Shaw was bailed out by Garcia in this year’s opener, the fifth-year senior rallying South Carolina to a 56-37 win over East Carolina after the Pirates took a 24-0 lead with Shaw as the starter.
Boyd was a redshirt freshman who knew he likely wouldn’t see much time with Parker back from a stellar 2009. Boyd acknowledged he didn’t take a strong approach to improving last year and when he got his chance, he says he was not ready.
When Parker gave up football after his sophomore season for the Colorado Rockies, Boyd came back a better player and leader.
“Even as a freshman, he was never a clown,” Clemson right tackle Landon Walker said. “But you don’t take things as serious when you aren’t the guy.”
Shaw figured to spend another season as Garcia’s backup, even after Spurrier picked Shaw to start the season opener.
After being replaced in that game, he was handed the reins again when Garcia was dismissed from the team.
Shaw has grown more comfortable in the zone-read schemes the Gamecocks have used to keep winning despite the losses of Garcia and injured star tailback Marcus Lattimore.
“The kid, he’s been around winning teams and he knows how to play like a winner,” Spurrier said.