South Carolina football will always remember the incredible contributions of Connor Shaw, but the program will now have to find a way to win without the winningest quarterback in school history as he attempts to break into the NFL’s ranks. Most programs would worry about replacing such a great quarterback, but head coach Steve Spurrier has nothing but good feelings about the 2014 season.
Dylan Thompson, veteran backup behind Shaw, was officially named the starter in Columbia and has Spurrier’s full backing. Thompson will be a senior this year and has patiently waited for his time behind Shaw. It seems impossible to keep the offense clicking as well with a new quarterback, but Thompson has plenty of experience and talent around him to make South Carolina’s offense dangerous.
Thompson is 3-0 as a starter and showed that he has ice cold veins by winning in Death Valley and leading a game winning drive in the 2013 Outback Bowl against Michigan. He has 1,827 passing yards and 14 career touchdowns while playing backup. He eclipsed 1,000 yards in his sophomore year while having a stellar campaign in the midst of Shaw’s nagging injuries.
Thompson’s junior year saw a decrease in production, but he also had less opportunity to shine for the Gamecocks. Shaw did not miss as much time as he had the previous year and had firm control over the starting position. Thompson’s most significant playing time came against Missouri, a game in which he largely struggled despite throwing for more than 200 yards.
A full offseason being the starting quarterback should go a long way in helping Thompson fully grasp his role as the new team leader. It is always difficult to come into a game as the backup, but everyone is fully behind Thompson now. It’s very rare for Spurrier to be so confident in a new quarterback, and that speaks volumes about Thompson’s talent.
Some will worry that the offense will struggle because Thompson can’t run as well as Shaw did. While it is true that he isn’t nearly as mobile as his predecessor, Thompson can certainly move around the pocket and pick up yards on the ground. The difference between the two quarterbacks is that Thompson won’t need to run as much. He has incredible arm strength and will really be able to sling the ball around this season. He is always able to throw the home run ball and will have plenty of targets to catch them. Shaq Roland is poised for a breakout season, and Damiere Byrd and Nick Jones are always deep threats.
Mike Davis in the backfield will draw the majority of attention from opposing defense next season which will only favor Thompson. The offensive line returns four starters and will provide plenty of protection for the new signal caller. Rory Anderson and Jerell Adams are two of the most underrated tight ends in the SEC and will also provide protection and be reliable targets to throw to.
Dylan Thompson has big shoes to fill in the 2014 season, but he has the talent and the pieces around him to succeed. It will be an important offseason for the senior quarterback, but expect him to work hard and prove himself in his final year of college football.