Connor Shaw delivers dazzling final performance in Capital One Bowl
ORLANDO, Fla. -- At a press conference earlier this week, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen was asked how his team had prepared to face South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw. "He can hurt you with his arm, his legs and his mind," Andersen said. "He's played in big-time moments and handles himself well. And I would say this: When you mix coach [Steve] Spurrier and Shaw together in that offense, it's a pretty vicious weapon."
Andersen's characterization proved prescient. Shaw delivered a sterling performance -- he completed 22-of-25 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for 47 yards and another score on 16 carries -- to power the Gamecocks' to a 34-24 victory over the Badgers in the Capital One Bowl on Wednesday. The win was not only South Carolina's third consecutive in a bowl game, but it was also the Gamecocks' sixth straight this season dating back to a 27-24 double-overtime victory at Missouri on Oct. 26. The defeat of Wisconsin also gave South Carolina 11 wins for the third season in a row.
"Wonderful win for us," Spurrier said. "And to finish like this, even all my years at Florida, we never finished like this. I mean, not to lose in December, maybe haven't lost in November much the last three years either ... it's because of guys like Connor."
Shaw's opening strike came late in the first quarter, when he hit junior wide receiver Bruce Ellington for a 39-yard touchdown pass that put the Gamecocks up 7-0. It was the second of his six completions to Ellington, who finished the game with 140 receiving yards and two scores. "Bruce had a heck of a game," Spurrier said.
The two veterans reversed roles midway through the second quarter, when Spurrier dialed up one of his trademark trick plays. After Ellington made a terrific catch on a back-shoulder throw to move South Carolina inside the Badgers' 10-yard line, Spurrier made good on his assertion to Shaw at breakfast by calling for a reverse pass.
"He told me at breakfast, and I had it in the back of my mind, so I'm glad we called it," Shaw said. Ellington took a handoff from receiver Pharoh Cooper and hit Shaw, who played receiver at Flowery Brach (Ga.) High, in the right corner of the end zone from nine yards out.
While that circus touchdown may go down as the defining highlight of the game, the Gamecocks' most impressive plays came on the throws -- not the catches -- made by Shaw. There was Ellington's jaw-dropping shoestring catch in the first quarter, and his one-handed, 22-yard grab on fourth-and-seven midway through the third. Sophomore wideout Shaq Roland corralled a twisting, 49-yard reception early in the fourth.
"They made some plays," said Shaw, who was voted the Capital One Bowl's most valuable player. "They told me before the game, just toss it up there and they'll get the ball. A couple of times I just threw it up, and Shaq and Bruce made some excellent plays."
After the game, Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland -- the Big Ten defensive player of the year, who had nine tackles in the game -- was so impressed by Shaw's performance that he couldn't help but heap praise on the signal-caller. "He's kind of their engine," Borland said. "He does a great job extending plays. Their offense goes as he goes, and he played well. At times, we didn't get the pressure we should have and he was able to extend plays. That's very frustrating."
Echoed Andersen: "I heard about [Shaw] from afar. He lived up to his billing."
Shaw's legacy at South Carolina will forever be tied to the Gamecocks' recent uptick under Spurrier. In four seasons, Shaw started 32 games and won 27. He became only the fourth player in program history to surpass 6,000 career passing yards and the only one to pass for 6,000 and rush for 1,000. He has helped South Carolina establish the nation's longest active home winning streak (18), and he's come through in the clutch time and again -- perhaps most notably during his second-half relief effort at previously unbeaten Missouri in October.
"Connor likes the big games," Spurrier said. "Connor can take care of the ball and make plays when the game's on the line."
Perhaps inevitably, junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney's postgame announcement that he would declare for the 2014 NFL draft overshadowed Shaw's brilliant performance. "I'll miss everything about Carolina," Clowney said. "I love it here."
But Spurrier made a case that Shaw, too, could have a future in professional football. Given the league's emphasis on finding mobile quarterbacks who can make short, accurate throws, it's not out of the question. "Connor will play a lot more football," Spurrier said. "I'm sure the NFL guys were watching today."
Spurrier was certain about this much: Shaw will be invited to the NFL combine. "Did you know that?" he asked Shaw at his postgame press conference. "They told me not to tell you until after the game."
Even if Shaw doesn't catch on at the next level, he has left an indelible mark on a program that was no better than an average SEC East outfit when he arrived on campus in 2010. The Gamecocks, who won a combined 13 conference games between '06 and '09 (and went a combined 1-7 against division rivals Georgia and Florida), have nearly surpassed that total over the last two seasons (12).
Shaw has been a huge part of that success. In fact, when asked how the senior ranks among the quarterbacks he has coached, Spurrier was direct. "I've had a lot of good ones, and Connor is right there among the best. No question about it."