When Connor Shaw's name lit up the new videoboard at Williams-Brice Stadium just prior to kickoff, announcing him as the starting quarterback, the Internet erupted with Tweets and posts questioning the Head Ball Coach's sanity in putting a recently injured player back in harm's way a week before the SEC opener against an opponent most figured as a 30-plus point dog.
UAB freshman linebacker Chris Rabb, however, was not surprised. In the least.
Were they ever. Focusing their game plan on stopping South Carolina's rushing attack - specifically Marcus Lattimore - the Blazers had early success, limiting the Gamecocks to just 23 yards rushing at the half and 179 for the game, much of that coming in the fourth quarter when all UAB's defenders wanted to do was get off and take their oversized check with them back to Birmingham.
"We knew with Shaw, they ran a lot of zone," Rabb said. "They line up and just run zone, zone, zone, so you have to stop it. That's all they really do. You have to try to stop it."
In preparing to stop Lattimore, the Blazers took an unusual practice approach.
"To practice wrapping him up, we had tight ends line up as a running back in practice to get ready to tackle him. We know he's a good running back, but we expected to come in here and contain him," he said. "We respect him, but I think we did a really good job of containing him."
UAB's success in stymieing the Gamecocks' offense ended at the same moment backup quarterback Dylan Thompson's began. Abandoning the zone-read and letting Thompson chuck it around the park, the Gamecocks found life - and chunks of yards - through the air.
"We knew they threw the ball a lot with the other quarterback, and that's when it changed," Rabb said.
Fellow freshman Jake Ganus had one interception on the night, dropped another that could have gone for six the other way and had a third negated by a penalty. He said it didn't matter to them who started.
"We prepared for both quarterbacks," Ganus said. "We had game-planned for both pretty much the same, so I feel we executed well. Connor is a much more running-type player and Thompson likes to throw it.
"I feel like our linebackers stopped that read-zone run, which made them pass, our defensive line got good pressure on them and we had some good blitzes come in. I came in the locker room at halftime and felt like we were winning.
"Coach (Reggie) Johnson and his staff had a great game plan coming in against a great offense and Heisman hopeful in Marcus Lattimore."
That changed on the opening drive of the third quarter, when the Gamecocks benefited from a key roughing-the-passer penalty that negated an interception, and a dropped interception from Ganus that came back to bite the Blazers two plays later when Thompson did his best Shaw impression and ran it in from 6 yards out to put USC ahead 28-6 and start the rout.
"(Thompson) came out there let loose and hit some throws," Ganus said. "He did well."
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