It wasn't that long ago that everybody was wondering if Connor Shaw would be able to play again this season.
Now he's on the verge of setting an SEC record, and has a shot at an NCAA record or two.
Sixth-ranked South Carolina's junior quarterback heads into Saturday's game at Kentucky riding a streak of 20 straight pass completions, begun and ended in last week's 31-10 blitzing of Missouri. Shaw mis-fired on his first pass attempt, settled into a groove of throwing safety routes over the middle early against the Tigers and then worked in a few deep routes.
As he neared the record, but with the game in hand, coach Steve Spurrier decided to not chance a risk of further injury, or not to abuse the record with obvious short throws designed solely to hit the mark. That makes Shaw's start against the Wildcats this week, when the entire playbook will be available early on, the record-watcher.
"Up top, one of the guys said, 'He needs two completions to set some kind of SEC record. Do you want to leave him in there and let him throw a couple swing passes?,'" Spurrier said on Tuesday. "I said, 'No, let's get him out. He's played enough. We'll let Dylan (Thompson) sweep it up and go from there.'
"Connor, I don't think he's big on individual things like that. It'd be neat if it happens, but we will let it happen in the normal course of the game this week."
Shaw is currently second in SEC history with his 20 straight completions in a single game, trailing only former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin, who had 23 against USC in 1998. Martin also claimed the overall consecutive completion record (24) when he hit his last pass against Alabama the week before and then his first 23 against the Gamecocks. The record has also been challenged by Ole Miss' Eli Manning and Arkansas' Tyler Wilson, who each completed 18 straight at one point, and by Spurrier, who once completed 16 straight at Florida.
As for the national record, Shaw has a slim chance of getting that. While he could have stayed in against Missouri and tried for the national single-game record of 26 straight completions, he was pulled. The overall record is 36, over two games, with each mark being held by East Carolina's Dominique Davis.
Spurrier says that Shaw pays no mind to records and individual accomplishments, but it still would be nice for the Gamecocks to see him hold a piece of SEC/national history. Shaw will leave USC as a very solid quarterback with a lot of victories, but his professional football future is unlikely to proceed - at least, as a quarterback. For him to have a record as the league carries on would be a moment that the program could boast about.
Either way, Shaw is healthy and ready to go against the Wildcats (1-3, 0-1 SEC), even with his shoulder blade holding a hairline fracture. After being hurt against Vanderbilt, sitting out against East Carolina and starting against UAB, only to re-aggravate the same injury, Shaw showed no trace of pain or discomfort against Missouri and said on Wednesday that his shoulder isn't sore at all, except for a bit after games.
And the record isn't playing a part in his preparation.
"I know a lot of people are talking about it and writing articles about it and stuff, but we're just going to go out there and play the game," Shaw said. "It'll happen in the course of the game. We're not going to change anything to get that."
While he didn't throw downfield against Missouri a lot, he did throw some, and his passes had the normal amount of zip on them. He ran up the middle like he has done throughout his career, perhaps with not the same amount of reckless bravado and a switch of his sliding/diving techniques, but he did run.
"I think I've always done a pretty good job of avoiding contact, sliding or diving before, taking unnecessary hits," Shaw said. "Nothing's changed on that."
It's the kind of performance that draws inspiration from coaches and teammates as the Gamecocks (4-0, 2-0) seek to build on what was their greatest season in history. A victory over Kentucky ties the longest winning streak the program has ever seen (nine games).
"I really wasn't aware of (the record)," Shaw said. "I was just trying to progress in my reads and get the ball out of my hands in the first couple of series. My goal was just to come out here and play to the best of my ability."
Coach G.A. Mangus said that he wasn't aware of the record until it was too late, but recognized that it would be a good thing for Shaw to obtain. But, like Shaw, he won't alter the regular game plan to get it.
"We've got a job to do, we're playing an SEC East team," Mangus said. "I didn't even know until the fourth quarter, and just during the flow of the game, I had forgotten that the very first pass he threw was one down in the ground there when he was getting ready to get tackled."
Shaw is healthy and ready for the Wildcats. If he wants the record, he's doing a great job of disguising it.
"If it happens, it happens," he shrugged.
* Mike Matulis did not practice with a sprained shoulder, the same one he has had a problem with throughout his career. Spurrier said that it isn't expected to be serious and that Matulis should be fine for Saturday. Brandon Shell was at right tackle in Matulis' place.
* Spurrier said that the fact that USC is one of the least-penalized teams in the country is a reflection of good coaching. "Well, good assistant coaching," he corrected.
* Spurrier also said that, as has been said already this week, Akeem Auguste is likely to play this week.
* Marcquis Roberts is practicing in full pads with a yellow jersey. He is still expected to miss the season.
* Adam Yates said that he is likely to stick with jersey No. 8 for the season.
* Rico McWilliams has switched from jersey No. 5 to jersey No. 1, but is still expected to miss the season.
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