COLUMBIA — There’s no quarterback controversy for coach Steve Spurrier at No. 9 South Carolina, even after backup Dylan Thompson threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday’s 48-10 win over East Carolina.
Instead, Spurrier said he now just has two guys who can play the position well.
Spurrier said after the game that injured starter Connor Shaw will start next week for the Gamecocks (2-0) against Alabama-Birmingham if he recovers from his bruised throwing shoulder.
“If Connor is 100 percent, he’s our guy,” Spurrier said. “Now we know if something happens to Connor, Dylan can go in there.”
Thompson’s 330 yards beat Shaw’s career best game of 311 yards, and the passing game looked vastly better than last week, when the Gamecocks threw for just 67 yards and completed only seven passes against Vanderbilt. But Thompson told reporters that Shaw is a great player who deserves to stay the starter.
“I’m just the backup quarterback. My role is to be ready when I am called,” Thompson said.
The sophomore’s first completion was a 53-yard pass to Damiere Byrd. He finished the game 21 of 37, averaging almost 16 yards per completion. He did not throw an interception.
The rejuvenated passing game allowed Spurrier to use star running back Marcus Lattimore sparingly. He gained 40 yards on 13 carries, although he did have a rushing touchdown that tied him for the most touchdowns in school history at 33 with Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers and Harold Green.
Spurrier said before the game that Shaw could play if he was needed after bruising his right shoulder in last week’s win over Vanderbilt. After the win, he said the junior’s shoulder hurt so bad he could only go in an emergency.
Thompson’s play made that decision easy. After throwing two incompletions to start the game, he completed his next five passes as the Gamecocks jumped to a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
In fact, Thompson’s only bad decision came late in the fourth quarter when he took on a defender as he tried to run the ball in for a touchdown on a third-and-19 with the Gamecocks up 31 points. Their helmets collided, and Thompson fumbled it away. Spurrier shook his head, smiled and patted his QB on the back when he got back to the sideline.
“Don’t ever do that again,” Spurrier told him.
Spurrier didn’t let up.
South Carolina threw the ball or planned to throw it on 14 of 19 plays in the fourth quarter.
Wide receiver Ace Sanders took a lateral and threw a 16-yard touchdown to D.L. Moore, then third string quarterback Seth Strickland threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rory Anderson with 44 seconds left.
Spurrier said he asked offensive line coach Shawn Elliott what they should do late in the game.
“I like it when the line coach says keep throwing,” said Spurrier, who won his 199th career game.
Anderson caught four passes for 90 yards, and Bruce Ellington had four receptions for 63 yards. South Carolina quarterbacks completed passes to 11 different receivers and threw for 397 yards. The Gamecocks gained 528 yards total.
“Probably today the ball was in the air more distance than any game I’ve coached here,” Spurrier said.
Before the game, several receivers came into Thompson’s hotel room to tell him they knew he could win. Spurrier shared a Bible verse with his deeply religious backup that said God is with him wherever he goes.
“I appreciated that and the 9 million other Bible verses people are sending me,” Thompson said.
East Carolina (1-1) gained 403 yards. But the Pirates turned the ball over five times, including four interceptions and a fumble in just 16 plays.
“We didn’t help ourselves with turnovers. Against a great team like South Carolina, they don’t need our help,” Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill said.
Rio Johnson got the start again at quarterback, but for most of the second half, McNeill went with Shane Carden, who broke his finger during spring drills.
Carden led the Pirates on their only two scoring drives, including waiting out the rush to throw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hardy that cut South Carolina’s lead to 41-10 with nine minutes left in the game.
Carden was 12-of-18 for 140 yards and an interception, while Johnson completed 18 of 29 passes for 193 yards and three interceptions.
McNeill said he will have to look at the film before deciding which of his four quarterbacks to start next week against Southern Mississippi.
Hardy caught eight passes for 111 yards for East Carolina.
It was a good day all the way around for Gamecocks fans. The school opened its new $30 million tailgating area across from the stadium and started a tradition that has the players walk through the crowd to the stadium. The area included trees whose leaves will change color to South Carolina garnet instead of Clemson orange in the fall. The school also turned on its new 36-foot tall, 124-foot wide video board that cost $6.5 million.
But the stadium emptied out quickly on a hot, humid day, and Spurrier noticed.
‘’Fans, stay in the ballpark a little longer,” Spurrier said. “The party will wait.”