The Daily Gamecock

Shaw to start despite illness earlier in the week

Davis hopes to rebound from fumbles against Missouri

There has been nonstop chatter around Columbia about Connor Shaw’s performance in South Carolina’s victory last week against Missouri.

The senior quarterback was not supposed to play at all, but during the game he told coach Steve Spurrier he was willing to give it a go. Even with a sprained knee and flu-like symptoms, he led the Gamecocks to a win after being down 17 points at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

In his weekly press conference Tuesday, Spurrier said that Shaw was still dealing with a virus and missed practice at the beginning of the week. The senior practiced Wednesday and quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus said he looked good and took more reps than expected.

Shaw should be set to go Saturday against Mississippi State and still has his team raving about his grittiness last game.

“Connor’s our leader and we’ve said that over and over again,” junior wide receiver Damiere Byrd said. “(With playing hurt) he just continues to show everybody that he truly is the leader and warrior of this team.”

Even the Head Ball Coach himself said that in all his years on the sidelines he has never had a quarterback quite like Shaw.

“I can’t think of a player that appeared he was out the next week, and then all of a sudden, he wasn’t as injured as we all thought,” Spurrier said. “Connor’s a tough guy, we all know that.”

The Gamecocks hope Shaw can manage to stay healthy against a Bulldog defense that is physical, despite less-than-impressive numbers. Senior linebacker Deontae Skinner is one of the key faces of a Mississippi State front-seven that has recorded only eight sacks thus far, which is worst in the SEC. Senior safety Nickoe Whitley is the play-maker in the secondary, leading the Bulldogs this season with three interceptions.

South Carolina is going to need to run the football better than it did against Missouri in order to keep the secondary at bay on Saturday.

Sophomore tailback Mike Davis, who had been nothing short of sensational running the football this season, finally had an off day with two key fumbles against Missouri in Tiger territory. He ended the night with 19 carries for only 51 yards. However, the sophomore did contribute in the passing game, finishing with 10 catches for 99 yards.

Running backs coach Everette Sands said ball security was a point of emphasis in practice this week. Sands acknowledged that Davis was just as upset about the fumbles as his coach was and he has been working hard to get the problem fixed.

“He can’t let them knock it out with one hand,” Spurrier said. “The blocking wasn’t all that super, but still he’s got to hold on to that ball. I don’t know if he’s got to change to his right hand or what.”

Some good news for the rushing attack is that sophomore Brandon Wilds will dress this weekend after missing the past four games with a dislocated elbow. Wilds said he felt well enough that he could carry the load if needed, but Sands said he would only be used as an emergency backup. Sands would like Wilds to give his elbow some more time and get more comfortable with the brace he is wearing, because Wednesday was his first day of contact since the injury.

Davis and Shaw have been getting most of the press on offense, but the Gamecocks also possess two of the top-ten receivers in the SEC in receiving yards with Byrd and junior Bruce Ellington. Ellington has 468 yards with five touchdowns while Byrd has 460 yards and three touchdowns.

The two players have helped balance the South Carolina offense and have become the most reliable targets for Shaw.

The senior has maintained impressive stats, throwing for 14 touchdowns with just one interception, all while earning a reputation as one of the toughest quarterbacks in the nation.

“At the end of the day, it’s not surprising,” Mangus said. “He does what he has to do and he’ll be ready to go this week.”