TAMPA, Fla. — South Carolina’s Connor Shaw and Michigan’s Devin Gardner will start at quarterback in the Outback Bowl, however that doesn’t mean Dylan Thompson and Denard Robinson won’t play meaningful roles in the New Year’s Day matchup.
Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier reiterated Monday that Shaw will be under center after sitting out his team’s regular-season finale against Clemson, a game in which Thompson made his second career start and showed he’s more than capable of running the offense and winning games.
Wolverines coach Brady Hoke, meanwhile, is sticking with the plan Michigan has followed since Robinson injured his right elbow in late October, with Gardner playing quarterback instead of receiver and Robinson primarily contributing in ways that doesn’t require him to throw the ball.
“Connor Shaw has been our starter. I always sort of believe you should tell one guy it’s his game unless he gets hurt or it really goes terribly wrong and you have to make a change,” Spurrier said, clarifying the situation two days after saying he wasn’t sure how he might utilize his talented passers.
“Connor’s been our starter pretty much all year. We all feel he’s 100 percent healthy, so right now we’re going in into it that: ‘It’s your game, let’s go. Don’t worry about making a mistake and getting jerked out or anything like that,’” Spurrier added. “Dylan is going to play, though.”
Thompson threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns against Clemson to help No. 11 South Carolina (10-2) win for the fourth straight time following consecutive losses to Louisiana State University and Florida that derailed the Gamecocks’ hopes of getting to the Southeastern Conference title game.
A win over Michigan (8-4) would allow the Gamecocks to match the school record of 11 victories set last season, as well as cap the most successful three-year run in South Carolina history.
While Spurrier said he hopes to stick with Shaw, who’s started 10 games and thrown for 1,732 yards and 15 TDs, for most of the game, Hoke was non-committal about how much – or where – Robinson will play for Michigan.
The Wolverines won three consecutive after losing Robinson during the first half of a 14-point loss to Nebraska on Oct. 27, the last time the dual threat quarterback threw a pass in a game. He sat out the following two weeks, before contributing as a runner and receiver the final two games of the regular season.
“Really how we finished the year ... the last three of four ball games is how we’ll play it out,” Hoke said, adding that Gardner will start and Robinson, who has thrown some since the Wolverines arrived in Florida to continue preparation for Michigan’s 42nd bowl appearance, will play “some quarterback.”
“Everything is possible with him,” Hoke said Monday.
“We’re going to try him in a variety of different roles. We’ll see what he’s capable of, but he’s had a month to heal,” offensive coordinator Al Borges added. “He’ll be involved, that’s for sure. He’s throwing the ball better all the time.”
Both teams have prepared for the prospect of facing two quarterbacks.
Hoke said Shaw and Thompson both have demonstrated they can be effective for South Carolina, noting that the Gamecocks have continued to be successful despite losing star running back Marcus Lattimore to injury.
“You look at the body of work with the offense; they lost a tremendous running back and were able to put a couple of guys in there that run the ball hard and do a nice job within the offense,” Hoke said. “I think quarterback-wise, Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson are both very good quarterbacks. In their big rivalry game they don’t have Shaw and Thompson goes in and wins ... on the road.”
South Carolina feels the same way about Gardner and Robinson, who’s thrown for 1,319 yards and nine touchdowns, while rushing for 1,166 yards and seven TDs this season.
The Michigan senior needs one passing TD to become the first player in Big Ten history to throw for 50 TDs and also rush for 40.
“He’s a great athlete. A great playmaker. We’re going to try and contain him and limit what he does,” Gamecocks linebacker Shaq Wilson said. “It’s a headache for the defense. I’m excited. I like a great challenge, and all my teammates like a great challenge.”