His coach doubted him. His fans doubted him. Worse, he doubted himself.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday - Dylan Thompson got confident.
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"I think the coolest thing is this morning in the hotel, (the wide receivers) all just came in my room and said, 'We got your back. You take your steps and throw and we're going to be there,'" South Carolina's redshirt sophomore quarterback said on Saturday. "I was ready to go then."
Yet he couldn't hardly translate that confidence to the field, and that was the sticking point. Everyone seemed to be saying, "That's great, son, but this is the Southeastern Conference. Leave that in the locker room and start bustin' heads."
With Connor Shaw ailing, coach Steve Spurrier was in a fix. Thompson was the backup for a reason, but he had been poor against Vanderbilt in the Gamecocks' first game. On Tuesday, Spurrier was publicly questioning Thompson's confidence, wondering if it would ever get to the point where it needed to be. He also told ESPN that it was exasperating to yell at Thompson in practice, trying to get a rise out of him, and Thompson would just silently take it and move on.
At least Shaw, as Spurrier said, "would get kind of a snarly expression." Thompson wouldn't.
But the Gamecocks needed a quarterback, and Thompson was the choice. Spurrier wisely didn't order any Shaw-type plays, knowing that Thompson was a far better passer than a runner, and sent him out against East Carolina.
His first pass was skipped in front of Ace Sanders. His second was incomplete, a long toss intended for Sanders that was way over Sanders' head.
Thompson swallowed hard, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The next play was sent in, another long pass, and it also seemed doomed as Thompson wound up and fired.
Sophomore receiver Damiere Byrd had always had the speed, but couldn't catch. The play was for him and he was in front of his man, but everyone in Williams-Brice could see this going the same way - incomplete, and boy, is this going to be a long day.
Byrd caught it, in stride, for a 53-yard gain. One play later, Thompson went to the bread-and-butter USC offensive play, handing off to close friend Marcus Lattimore (the two grew up in the same area) for a 6-yard touchdown.
Confidence, meet Dylan Thompson.
"I got off to a great start, hit Damiere, that was great for my confidence," Thompson said. "I probably got a little too excited."
Whatever happened, it stuck. Thompson was a crisp 21-of-37 for 330 yards and three touchdowns. He didn't throw an interception, and rushed nine times for 17 yards.
The only mistake that he had was when he burst loose on a run after an attempted sack, and decided to challenge a defender head-on in the red zone. He collided, helmet-to-helmet, and while he came out injury-free, the ball squirted loose and the Pirates recovered.
"I won't be doing that again," he said.
Other than that, he was just fine. USC romped over the Pirates 48-10 and feels a lot better about its offense than a week ago.
Thompson credited Spurrier for handing him a Bible verse on Friday - "The Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Why should you fear?" and his own unwavering faith in God. "Whether I played great or played bad, He was going to love me the same," he said.
He also took a shot at himself, saying that he knew darned well why he was the backup and was perfectly content with it.
"The way I look at it, is minus the linemen, I'm probably the worst athlete on our team on the offensive side of the ball," he said. "The more I have the ball, the worse trouble we're in, so I just tried to get the ball to the guys that can make plays."
He did that, even though the running game was squashed. Eleven players caught at least one pass, and Thompson was able to find often-hyped-but-rarely-delivered receivers D.L. Moore and DeAngelo Smith for touchdowns. Thompson then stepped into the post-game, clearly deserving an ego-ed look and some pompous answers, and said that he would be perfectly happy to go back to being the backup.
Spurrier agreed, saying that if Shaw is 100 percent healthy in practice this week, then he will start against UAB. Not play, start.
Thompson was fine with that.
"I don't think we should forget how great of a player Connor is," Thompson said. "He's a great player. My job as a backup is to always be ready. I had to step in for him."
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