COLUMBIA — Connor Shaw’s first start in front of the home crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium was a success any way you look at it.
The sophomore threw four touchdown passes, the most any South Carolina quarterback has thrown in five years, and he rolled up 311 yards as Steve Spurrier emptied his playbook with a variety of formations and play-calling that brought to mind his Fun ‘N’ Gun days when he coached at Florida.
More importantly, Shaw didn’t turn the ball over, and the No. 18 Gamecocks rolled to a confidence-building, 54-3 victory over Kentucky in front of 75,838 fans. It was the Gamecocks’ biggest margin of victory against a league opponent since joining the Southeastern Conference in 1992.
“We had a really good game plan as far as different formations and strategies,” said Shaw, who was an efficient 26 of 39 throwing the ball. “They do a lot of things on defense, and I thought we did a really good job preparing this week for it.”
Shaw’s play received praise from his coach and teammates.
“Connor had a lot of good plays,” Spurrier said. “A few plays we could’ve done better, but Connor played well and threw the ball well.”
Tailback Marcus Lattimore rushed for 102 yards, and he singled out Shaw for his poise.
“I think main thing for a quarterback is confidence, and that’s what he came out there with,” Lattimore said. “He did a great job.”
Shaw threw two touchdowns to Alshon Jeffery, and Justice Cunningham and Nick Jones each caught touchdown passes. The Gamecocks rolled up 631 yards of offense, and backup quarterbacks Andrew Clifford and Dylan Thompson each produced scores in the fourth quarter.
The Gamecocks (5-1, 3-1 SEC) put together their most complete effort of the season. Kentucky fell to 2-4 overall and 0-3 in conference play.
South Carolina’s defense forced the Wildcats into six turnovers, including four interceptions. Kentucky was held to just 96 yards on offense.
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips had no explanation for his team’s offensive woes.
“Our passing game is a lost part of our game,” he said. “That’s one of the things that we have done around here really well. And we have yet to execute a passing game in the last couple games that’s looked like one.”
The Gamecocks were far from perfect – an extra point try was blocked and the offense sputtered in the red zone – but Kentucky was the perfect tonic for a team smarting from last week’s loss to Auburn.
Shaw was named starter in place of Stephen Garcia after the Gamecocks struggled on offense, particularly in last week’s 16-13 loss to the Tigers. The sophomore started South Carolina’s opener against East Carolina after Spurrier said he beat Garcia in preseason drills, but was ineffective as the Gamecocks fell behind 17-0.
On Saturday, Garcia stood on the sidelines with the other quarterbacks and cheered Shaw.
“Before the game he kept telling me positive things like good luck,” Shaw said. “I’d come off the field and he’d congratulate me and say keep your head in the game and stuff like that.”