COLUMBIA — It’s no coincidence that South Carolina’s longest home winning streak began when Connor Shaw took over for Stephen Garcia midway through the 2011 season.
The Gamecocks were coming off a disheartening loss at home to Auburn, and Steve Spurrier benched Garcia and replaced him with Shaw.
Then a sophomore, all Shaw did was throw for 311 yards and four touchdowns as South Carolina routed Kentucky, 54-3, on Oct. 8. Three days later, Spurrier announced that Garcia had been dismissed from the team.
Now, more than two years later, Shaw has the Gamecocks on a 16-game winning streak at Williams-Brice Stadium and is poised to become the school’s all-time leader in victories.
“He deserves to be known as maybe the best one here,” Spurrier said Tuesday at his weekly news conference.
The main difference between Shaw and Garcia is ball security. While Garcia could make spectacular plays at times, he also had a penchant for throwing interceptions or fumbling the ball away.
In the 16-13 loss to Auburn, Garcia threw two interceptions and was sacked three times.
Shaw, on the other hand, has only one interception this season in 222 attempts. He threw six in 2011 and seven in 2012.
Spurrier pointed to the absence of turnovers in South Carolina’s past two games, both wins by the Gamecocks.
“One thing we’ve been very good at is no turnovers,” he said. “If you play with no turnovers your chances of winning the game improve tremendously.”
Shaw had an off night in Saturday’s 19-14 win over Florida, but he did enough to earn his 24th career victory as the starting quarterback. That tied him with former Gamecock great Todd Ellis for first place, and Shaw can break the record with a win this week against FCS foe Coastal Carolina.
“Obviously it’s something special, and hopefully we can come out next week and execute and beat Coastal,” Shaw said after the win over the Gators. “I’ve got plenty of time after I’m done here to look back on all of it. So I’m just going to try and continue to help our team to win.”
Shaw, a coach’s son from Flowery Branch, Ga., is polite, soft-spoken, and a role model for teammates. In turn, they recognize him as their unquestioned leader.
“Connor is a heck of a guy. He is a leader,” said receiver Bruce Ellington, who caught a touchdown pass from Shaw against Florida. “He may mess up, but he stays with it and he continues to fight. He did a great job throwing the ball to me for the touchdown.”
While Shaw has never lost a starting assignment at Williams-Brice, perhaps the signature moment of his career came in the Oct. 26 road win at No. 5 Missouri.
Trailing 17-0 in the fourth quarter, Shaw threw a pair of touchdown passes to force overtime. After Missouri scored a touchdown in the first extra period, the Gamecocks looked like they were going to come up short. But Shaw threw a 15-yard strike to Ellington on fourth down to keep South Carolina alive, and the Gamecocks won it in the second overtime on Elliott Fry’s field goal.
While Shaw has nursed some injuries this year, limiting his effectiveness as a running threat in recent games, he is the only South Carolina quarterback to throw for more than 5,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 in his career.
In a golden age of Southeastern Conference quarterbacks, including Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Georgia’s Aaron Murray, Spurrier said Shaw deserves recognition. He is a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien Award and a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.
“His winning record stands there with all of them,” Spurrier said.
But that won’t keep the Head Ball Coach from pushing Shaw to become better. He announced Tuesday that backup quarterback Dylan Thompson will see action in this week’s game against Coastal Carolina.
“We’re going to play Dylan a little bit,” Spurrier said. “I told Connor you play better when you know Dylan’s going to play.”