- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Steve Spurrier knows a thing or two about playing quarterback.
He’s also renowned for being hard on his quarterbacks and brutally honest when it comes to their play.
So when Spurrier says his quarterback, Connor Shaw, is playing with the kind of courage you simply can’t teach, it’s probably not a bad idea to listen to the Head Ball Coach.
Shaw, undaunted by a hairline fracture in his right throwing shoulder, was magnificent Saturday in leading No. 7-ranked South Carolina to a 31-10 battering of Missouri at Williams-Brice Stadium.
“Connor got off to a slow start. He missed his first one, I think. Nah, he was sensational,” Spurrier beamed.
Shaw, who missed the East Carolina game two weeks ago and didn’t finish the UAB game last week, couldn’t have been much sharper in carving apart a Missouri defense that has now given up 72 points in two SEC games.
He completed a school-record 20 straight passes and finished 20-of-21 for 249 yards and two touchdowns. He also had an 80-yard touchdown run nullified by an odd clipping penalty in the first quarter.
The more he gets hit, the better he plays.
If you didn’t know better, you’d think the guy was bionic.
“People say he’s tough, and he is,” South Carolina offensive co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Shawn Elliott said. “But what he has is a will to win that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. That’s what makes him special.”
Shaw, a 6-foot-1, 207-pound junior, hasn’t been 100 percent since the opener when he took a knee to the shoulder against Vanderbilt. It was initially believed to be a deep bone bruise, but Shaw said X-rays later revealed a hairline fracture.
He said the pain is usually the worst at night before he goes to bed and also early in the morning. He takes his pain medication at night.
“You get to moving around in the bed and rolling on that (right) side, and you definitely feel it.” Shaw said. “That’s just part of it, part of this game. You’re going to have some things that you have to play through. I felt better (Saturday) both mentally and physically than I have since the first game. I was ready for this game.”
Indeed he was.
His toughness has been infectious on a team that was already plenty salty, especially a defense that held Missouri to 151 total yards through three quarters.
And when South Carolina's offense got rolling after the first couple of possessions, Missouri never really had a chance.
The Tigers were determined that Marcus Lattimore wasn’t going to beat them running the ball, so they stacked the line of scrimmage and played Cover 2 in the defensive backfield to keep from getting beat deep.
Shaw threw to his tight ends, threw to Lattimore out of the backfield and hit sophomore receiver Ace Sanders with a 23-yard touchdown pass when he saw the Missouri cornerback come up and challenge Sanders.
“We got rolling, found a groove and stayed in it,” Shaw said.
And his teammates followed his lead.
“We feed off Connor, and the thing about him is you would never even know that he had a fracture,” said Sanders, whose tackle-breaking 49-yard punt return set up the Gamecocks’ first touchdown.
“He just goes out and plays, and you’re not going to get him off that field.”
Shaw had a good feeling about this game all week. For one, he got most of the practice reps after practicing very little last week. He could also sense how disrespected his teammates felt after hearing this week that the Gamecocks were vulnerable for the upset.
“We realized that,” Shaw said. “We wanted to prove what the SEC is all about.”
The real proving ground for the Gamecocks is still to come. Georgia visits in a couple of weeks followed by trips to LSU and Florida.
That’s one hellacious stretch, but it’s a stretch that becomes a lot more manageable with Shaw playing the way he did on Saturday.