GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The moment that backup quarterback Dylan Thompson trotted to the huddle on South Carolina's opening possession of the second half, the social media chatter began in earnest.
Does USC have a quarterback controversy?
Connor Shaw, 13-3 as the starter in his career, was yanked at halftime after completing less than 50 percent (9-of-20 for 72 yards) of his passes in a lackluster first half as the Gamecocks managed just 103 yards on 39 snaps (2.64 yards per play) and committed three costly turnovers.
"Our offense stunk from the get-go," coach Steve Spurrier said during his post-game interview on the Gamecock Radio Network following USC's 44-11 loss to Florida. "It was a pitiful performance by our offense.
"I thought some guys were open that he wasn't hitting. He was still running all over the place. Maybe he had to. Maybe the protection was so bad, I don't know. Maybe it was. When I am watching on the sidelines, I watch the snap and then I focus downfield and see if he has anywhere to throw it or not."
Thompson played the entire second half, connecting on 8-of-20 passes for 83 yards. Each quarterback was sacked twice and too often hung onto the ball for too long as receivers struggled to get open.
Together, the two quarterbacks combined to complete 42.5 percent of their passes (17-of-40) with no touchdowns and one interception.
Afterwards, Spurrier was noncommittal about who would start next week's noon contest against struggling Tennessee at Williams-Brice Stadium, the first of three straight games in Columbia for the Gamecocks, a team badly in need of some home cooking.
"I don't know (who will start at QB). We'll go back and watch all the tapes and make some decisions after that," Spurrier said. "I thought Connor could have thrown the ball here and there a little bit more than running again today, but I may be wrong. Maybe he had no protection and he had to run out of there.
"But we overthrew. We underthrew. It just didn't work. We thought we'd give Dylan a chance."
Shaw, who is 28-of-54 for 251 yards, two interceptions and one touchdown in the last two games, wasn't caught off-guard by Spurrier's decision to make a change in an effort to spark the USC offense.
"(Spurrier) told me at halftime that I wasn't getting the job done and he felt like Dylan could," Shaw said. "I was completely supportive of him. We just didn't get it done tonight. We just couldn't find a groove with our offense. It was a frustrating first half.
"You'll have to ask coach Spurrier (if the quarterback job is open). Both of us support each other 100 percent. We're good friends and we're going to compete every day."
Thompson experienced his first meaningful action since the UAB game, when he completed 5-of-10 passes for 177 yards, including a 94-yard touchdown toss to Damiere Byrd. In the past four games, he has thrown only three passes.
"I have complete confidence in Connor as well as coach Spurrier, so I know the best decision will be made," Thompson said. "Confidence is a big thing. When we have it, we're really good. When we don't have, we're not very good. I feel like we have to do whatever we have to do to get our confidence back and our mojo back and be ready to go."
USC pieced together a 10-play, 68-yard drive in the fourth quarter for a field goal with 7:17 remaining. In terms of distance, it was USC's longest drive of the night. Thompson was 5-of-9 for 68 yards in the drive.
"Dylan finally hit a few balls down the field and that led to the field goal," Spurrier said. "We were in the red zone twice all day and we had a lot of chances. Dylan didn't have a lot of opportunities. The last interception was a bad play on his part, but all the other times he didn't have a chance.
"They were in his face. And we didn't have anybody open a lot, too. We don't make those great catches like Alshon (Jeffery) used to make. We would throw it up in the air and he would come down with it."
Neither quarterback got help from an unproductive running game. For the second consecutive weekend, the Gamecocks had fewer than 40 rushing yards. They had 34 rushing yards last week at LSU and a mere 36 yards on the ground in The Swamp. That's 70 rushing yards on 51 carries in the last two games, an average of 1.4 yards per carry. Clearly, that won't get it done on the road in the SEC.
"When you fumble the ball and give them touchdowns three times in the first half, that's hard to overcome because we're not a very good offensive team," Spurrier said. "We don't throw it very well. And obviously we're not running very well right now."
MAKING IT TOO EASY: Because of three fumbles and a botched onside kick by USC, four of Florida's six touchdown drives traveled 2, 29, 1 and 11 yards. That's 28 of the Gators' 44 points. Certainly, the Gamecocks made life for the Florida offense way too easy and way too difficult for the USC defense, which surrendered only 183 total yards. How many times has a team out-gained the opponent, yet lose by 33 points? It happened on Saturday in Gainesville.
The total distance of Florida's three touchdown drives in the first half was 32 yards. Obviously, Christmas came early for the Gators as USC did everything but gift-wrap the three first-half scores.
"Coaches take losing, when you give it your best shot and you don't play give-away and you play smart, disciplined and with effort," Spurrier said in his post-game interview on the Gamecock Radio Network. "It was sad today. We fumbled four times and they ran an onsides kick back to about the 10-yard-line. It was an ugly offensive game. Except we turned it over and they didn't turn it over. It was a very disappointing the way we lost."
DEFENSE PLAYED WELL: Even though USC allowed 44 points, Spurrier defended the Gamecocks' defense, which allowed Florida just 29 yards on 28 snaps in the first half, yet found USC trailing, 21-6. The Gators had minus-13 yards rushing in the first quarter and 13 in the first half.
"I thought our defense played pretty well," Spurrier said. "In fact, Florida had to throw it in twice after having first-and-goal from the 1- or 2-yard-line. We stuffed them up pretty good. They finally hit a pass or two, but our defense played well the entire game. They held them under 200 yards. That's a good defensive effort."
SEC RESULTS (Saturday)
LSU 24, Texas A&M 19
Vanderbilt 17, Auburn 13
Florida 44, South Carolina 11
Alabama 44, Tennessee 13
Georgia 29, Kentucky 24
Mississippi State 45, Middle Tennessee 3
OPEN: Arkansas, Ole Miss, Missouri
SEC EAST STANDINGS: Florida 6-0, Georgia 4-1, USC 4-2, Vanderbilt 2-3, Tennessee 0-4, Missouri 0-4, Kentucky 0-5
* The captains were D.J. Swearinger, Justice Cunningham, T.J. Johnson and Shaq Wilson. Johnson officially became USC's all-time leader for most career starts with 48 by surpassing Cliff Matthews.
* Ace Sanders needed 49 return yards to break USC's single-season punt-return record, but he managed just 1 yard on two returns. He has 314 yards for the season.
* Florida converted 7-of-16 third-down opportunities, while USC was 3-of-14 on third downs. As a result, the Gators dominated time of possession, controlling the ball for 35:28 compared to 24:32 for USC. It was the second straight game the Gamecocks' opponent has held the ball for more than 35 minutes. USC is 6-of-27 on third down in the last two games.
* Senior D.L. Moore led USC receivers with three receptions for 23 yards. In doing so, he doubled his season output to six receptions.
* Linebacker Reginald Bowens led USC with a season-high 11 tackles, matching a career-high as well. He previously had 11 tackles on Oct. 2, 2011, vs. Auburn.
* The USC defense had three sacks - one each by Jadeveon Clowney, Devin Taylor and DeVonte Holloman - and 10 tackles for loss. But it failed to force a turnover as USC finished minus-four in turnover margin.
* When USC blocked Florida's extra-point attempt in the third quarter and returned it for two points, it marked the first time USC had recorded a two-point play of that type since the Capital One Bowl, when Stephon Gilmore scored for the Gamecocks. The last time Florida has an extra point blocked and returned for two points was 1990.
* An unsung hero for Florida was punter Kyle Christy, who averaged 54.3 yards on seven punts with a long of 62 yards. USC's Tyler Hull averaged 39.6 yards on seven punts, so USC have up almost 15 yards of field position on punts. "Their punter was outstanding," Spurrier said. "We couldn't run anything back and we fumbled one right back to them."