A left knee sprain to Connor Shaw may have opened the door for backup quarterback Dylan Thompson to get his first SEC start on the road against No. 5 Missouri Saturday, but his coach and teammates say it's his preparedness and experience that have put him in position to lead the Gamecocks against the unbeaten Tigers.
Thompson is always ready, said sophomore tailback Mike Davis after practice Wednesday.
"That's the type of person he is," Davis said. "He prepares well."
The Gamecocks have turned to Thompson several times over the past two seasons, and the redshirt junior from Boiling Springs, S.C., has proven himself time and time again. Thompson passed for 330 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start against ECU in 2012, and he led the Gamecocks to a 27-17 victory at Clemson in his second start later that season.
He also came off the bench to toss the game-winning touchdown in the Outback Bowl and to lead South Carolina to a 28-25 victory at UCF earlier this season. It's those outings and Thompson's work ethic that have led quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus to trust the backup quarterback to step up when Shaw goes down.
"Dylan's a good player," said quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus. "He'll get his chance to go this week. He's practiced good the last couple of days, but he always does. Dylan gets himself ready like he's a starter, that's why I don't worry about Dylan. He'll be ready to roll."
Thompson has practiced with the first team this week, and he said he expects to play the entire game at Missouri. Head coach Steve Spurrier named Thompson the starter Tuesday, but said Connor Shaw hasn't been ruled out of playing Saturday.
Thompson said he understands what's at stake, specifically the South Carolina's SEC East title hopes, when the Gamecocks take the field Saturday, but he's looking forward to the chance to play against a top-five opponent on the road, not bemoaning it.
"I think it's a great opportunity," Thompson said. "Missouri's a great defense. They're really talented. We're just looking forward to the opportunity of going there and looking forward to that challenge. We've done it before, and I'm really excited about the game and out team this week. We've really prepared well."
Thompson said Missouri's pass rush will be the best South Carolina has seen all season. The Tigers lead the SEC in sacks per game with 3.29 and feature several talented defensive linemen.
"They've got great ends, great tackles, and they trust their rush a lot - more than any other team," Thompson said.
But Thompson said that can't dictate the way he plays or approaches the game Saturday. Thompson said the gameplan won't change at Missouri despite his and Shaw's contrasting styles and the importance of the game. Rather than changing things, Thompson says he and the team will stick to their preparation, trust the coaches and focus on the job at hand.
"We've got great coaches here and great teammates, and just trust them, and it's going to be a fun time," Thompson said.
Worrying about the future and the SEC East race is a job for another day, Thompson said.
"Coach does a good job of making it about the next game, and right now Missouri is the next game, and that's what we're going to focus on, and that's what we've been working for all this week," Thompson said.
Thompson said his success and the experience of engineering road victories at UAB and Clemson over the past 11 months will help him Saturday. But in his fourth year in the program as a backup, Thompson said he understands his past successes won't affect how things play out at Missouri.
"I think it helps, but this is a new team, a new game," Thompson said. "Missouri's a great team; they've got a good crowd. We've got to be ready for that and take it. This week is the biggest game we've played yet, so let's just focus on that.
"You've just got to take it for what it is and roll with it, and I'm just excited for the opportunity."
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