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October 1, 2013

Who will start at quarterback for USC?

Turns out Connor Shaw's sprained shoulder isn't as severe as first thought a few days ago when he walked off the field at UCF.

As a result, the identity of the starting quarterback for Saturday night's matchup against struggling Kentucky at Williams-Brice Stadium is TBA.

Shaw returned to practice on Monday night and, according to Steve Spurrier during his weekly press conference on Tuesday, was able to throw the ball 55 to 60 yards in the air, an indication the training staff's initial estimation the senior from Flowery Branch, Ga., would be sidelined two to three weeks was inaccurate.

"(It) looks like he is going to be healthy now and able to play," said Spurrier, who is 19-1 against Kentucky in his career, including a 54-3 rout in Columbia two years ago in Shaw's second career start.

"I don't know who will start yet. We will sort of wait on that. The trainer had him out two-to-three weeks. Yesterday, he threw a ball 55 yards. You need to ask the trainer how he made such a miraculous recovery."

If Shaw is unable to start, redshirt junior Dylan Thompson will get the call after guiding the Gamecock offense in the final 3-1/2 quarters against UCF.

"Dylan is ready to play," Spurrier said. "Dylan had a good practice last night. Of course, we've all seen him play. Dylan didn't throw particularly well the last game, and he even admitted that he can throw better than that. But he made some big scramble plays. He kept drives alive, no question about it."

"I don't know what we're going to do this week. We'll see how it all goes in practice before we name the starter, probably Thursday or so."

No current head coach has enjoyed more success against one school than Spurrier when he opposes Kentucky or Vanderbilt. He is 19-2 against the Commodores.

Shortly after suffering the shoulder injury early in last Saturday's 28-25 victory, Shaw was seen on the sideline with his arm in a sling. At that point, Spurrier acknowledged he feared the worst.

Now Shaw could make his third career start against the Wildcats, which carry a three-game losing streak into Saturday's SEC. USC is 1-1 in SEC play.

Lesson learned? Never underestimate Shaw's mental or physical toughness, which has been proven over and over again.

"He had that foot last year, but other than that he's a very tough guy," Spurrier said. "He obviously must have had a lot of pain with the hit last game because when he came off the field it looked like he was maybe out for the season. But now he's in pretty good shape. So, who knows the pain factor? Nobody knows. Connor is a very tough kid who wants to play, and he should be ready to play this week."

Thompson has been teammates with Shaw since 2010, so nothing the latter does surprises him. For him, this week should be no different than any other in terms of preparation.

"It's the same scenario as always," Thompson said on Tuesday. "I just have to be ready to play. Obviously, I expect to play more this week given the circumstances. We'll see how it goes. As you guys know, Connor is about as tough as they come as a football player. He is going to work his butt off to get back as soon as he can. I just have to be ready. If I'm starting, I'm starting. If not, I'm not."

Whoever starts at quarterback won't be throwing to wide receiver Shaq Roland for at least the next two weeks. Spurrier confirmed Roland has been suspended a total of three games for a violation of university policy.

Roland did not accompany the team to Orlando for the UCF game and won't dress for the upcoming games against Kentucky and Arkansas (Oct. 12 in Fayetteville). He is eligible to return for the Oct. 19 road game at Tennessee.

Spurrier has declined to discuss the specifics of the case, including the reason(s) for Roland's lengthy suspension, referring only to "university policy."

Roland wasn't needed last weekend when the Gamecocks dialed up 490 total yards in the three-point win over UCF. Through four games, USC has generated 1,929 yards of total offense, an average of 482.2 yards per game and the highest total yardage for the opening four games of the season since at least 1962 when full records are available.

With 1,523 total yards in the last three games, USC produced 1,500 or more yards in total offense over a three-game span for just the third time in school history (1995 and 2006).

When is the last time USC manufactured 2,000 yards over a four-game stretch? 1995. The Gamecocks need 477 total yards against Kentucky to reach that figure.

USC is ranked fourth in the SEC in total offense behind Texas A&M, Georgia and Missouri, and is converting 51.7 percent of third downs (31-of-60) compared to Kentucky's league-worst mark of 23.4 percent (11-of-47).

The Gamecocks have been remarkably consistent in the running game, finishing with between 220 and 228 rushing yards in each of the first four games. Mike Davis is the SEC's leading rusher with an average of 127 yards per game. USC went old-school by turning to the I-formation in the second half and, with fullback Connor McLaurin serving as a key blocker, Davis flourished in the scheme with 150 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries.

"Offensively, we have done pretty well," Spurrier said. "You try to find a way to do whatever your players do best and you hope to run the ball. That's one thing we did extremely well last week. We do the zone read stuff, but it wasn't working very well the last game. So, we got in the I-formation and ran the ball like that for a bit and that seemed to do better. You just try to do whatever your players can do well, simple as that."

NOTES:

-- Spurrier said redshirt freshman Clayton Stadnik will likely start at center for the third time since Cody Waldrop suffered a sprained ankle at UCF.

-- With Brandon Wilds out for three or four weeks with a dislocated elbow, Spurrier said true freshman David Williams "will probably get in the game this week."

-- USC has won 12 of the last 13 meetings against Kentucky dating back to a 20-17 victory in Lexington in 2000.

-- USC is seeking a 14th straight home win on Saturday, which would stand alone as the second-longest home winning streak in school history. USC is two home wins shy of the school record of 15 set from 1978-80 during the George Rogers Era. USC is 29-3 in its last 32 home games.

-- Spurrier on Kentucky: "They have struggled a bit this year. They've got a new coach, Mark Stoops, who I think is eventually going to do an excellent job there at Kentucky. But they have struggled a little bit offensively. Their defense has played well most of the year, struggled occasionally. They have been tough and will come in here and give us all we can handle, I am sure."

-- Spurrier said he didn't mind if Gamecock fans left Saturday's game early since all the tickets have been sold. The students, though, are another matter. "The students, I think they should stay," Spurrier said. "They got nothing else to do all night except party around a little bit. They are going to be up half the night or all night anyway. So, students, sing the alma mater with us."

-- Spurrier on USC nearly blowing big leads in the fourth quarter of the last two games: "We are very, very fortunate to have won the last two ball games. Hopefully, we can learn. We haven't proven yet that we can put teams away and keep them put away. We have a lot of coaching to do around here."

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