Two to Three Weeks

Two to three weeks.  It was going to be two to three weeks.  Connor Shaw was injured, and he was going to be unable to play for two to three weeks.  And it was good news.  Hours earlier Shaw was lying on the field of Neyland Stadium, and it looked like his career was over.  

It was a sunny Saturday afternoon.  Clear, but cold.  It was always cold in Knoxville when the Gamecocks visited.  The game wasn't going well.  Carolina was desperately trying to make a one point lead stand up, but the offense wasn't moving the ball.  Late in the 4th quarter Shaw dropped to pass and couldn't find a receiver.  Like he'd done many times, he started to run.  He was sandwiched between two defensive linemen and sacked.  When the defenders rolled off the pile there was Shaw.  He was clutching his right knee and writhing in that tell tale way athletes do when they tear their ligaments.

Gamecock fans should know.  They've seen their fair share of knee injuries.  Last season they lost their beloved Marcus Lattimore to torn knee ligaments, just like the season before.  With Marcus gone, Connor was the offensive spark, the talented glue man that made the offense go.  And like Marcus he was on the ground with an injured knee.

Always part of a quarterback controversy, first with Garcia and now with Thompson, Connor Shaw is underestimated.  Somehow some people forget he is the winningest quarterback in South Carolina history.  He is about to set the record for wins as a starter.  He was anyway.

And that's how the thinking went.  Not only did it feel embarrassing and tragic to lose to Tennessee, but it was actually tragic for Connor's career to end.  Then there was the news that no ligaments were torn.  That's how a two to three week injury is good news.  It's good when the alternative return date is never.

Nonetheless, it wasn't good timing.  It was time to play Missouri.  This is only Missouri's second season in the league, and their first one was rocky.  Apparently the Tigers didn't like that, so they just beat everyone this year, and beat them badly.  They'd won in Athens, something the Gamecocks couldn't do, and they followed that up by thrashing Florida.  The Florida.

It was going to be a hard game before the injury, and of course, the injury didn't make the situation better.  There was talk during the week that maybe Shaw would be able to be the back up.  He would dress out and would take the snaps in an emergency.  It would be like Clemson last year.  Except the Gamecocks didn't need Connor to beat Clemson; they needed him to beat Missouri.

And this isn't a story about how awful Dylan Thompson played and how he had to be taken out of the game.  Thompson didn't play badly.  He missed some throws here and there but was generally effective, everywhere but the scoreboard.  Besides what makes Shaw so good isn't his arm, though it is underrated; it's his feet.  He can run out trouble and run for first downs.  He's made the read option successful in Columbia.  Without his feet what is Shaw?  He's a very good quarterback, and after Saturday night in the other Columbia everyone should know it.

It was late in the third quarter.  Carolina had gone for it on fourth down at the Missouri 32.  Dylan threw an incomplete pass, his third in row.  Missouri moved the ball and quickly got a field goal.  17-0.  The game was almost out of reach. 

It hadn't been two to three weeks.  It had been seven days, but Connor said he could play, so in he went.  He didn't have a Doug Flutie moment; he didn't magically win the game.  He picked up a first down, was later sacked, and the team had to punt.  It might not have mattered who was in a quarterback if Missouri scored again.  Thankfully, they didn't.

Then the legend began.  It took 13 plays, 9 passes for Carolina to score.  Bruce Ellington made a circus catch and gave the Gamecocks new life.  Things were looking up.  But.  But Missouri, the team formerly of the pass happy, prolific offense Big 12 still had to be stopped, again.  They were, sorta.  Missouri drove down the field and had to settle for a field goal attempt, but it was from 46 yards.  46 yarders are made all the time, but it's a long field goal.  Andrew Baggett, the Missouri kicker, had plenty of power, but he pulled the ball, and it flew wide of the left upright.

It was Connor's turn again.  Carolina took over at their own 29, and Faurot Field really got loud.  The fans seemed to be uncomfortable with their two score lead.  Carolina had time, not much though.  They needed two scores and could count on only two more possessions.  So Connor starting throwing.  Four first downs later Carolina was at the Missouri 2.  This was usually when Shaw was so dangerous.  The team often scored with read options, speed options, roll outs and draws, all of which rely on #14's feet.  But Connor couldn't run like that, and Carolina couldn't punch it in.  They had to settle for a field goal to cut the lead to seven.

The Gamecocks needed another stop.  They needed their defense to have their best fourth quarter of the year.  Missouri got five on first down; they were on schedule.  They picked up three more on second; still on time.  On third down they ran their bread and butter stretch play into the short side of the field … right into a Gamecock blitz.  They lost four and had to punt.

Connor got another chance.  Again he started throwing.  Again he picked up four first downs, and again South Carolina was at the Missouri 2 yard line.  A first down handoff to Mike Davis went backward.  Oh, if Connor were healthy.  There were so many plays that USC could use.  They couldn't be stopped at the two, not again.  So, the hobbled Connor Shaw rolled out on his bad knee and found who?  Nick Jones for the touchdown.  With 42 seconds left all that was needed was an extra point and a stop.  Freshman Elliott Fry took care of the first one, and Missouri didn't seem interested in trying to score to avert overtime.

Carolina had come back to tie the game, but it wouldn't be a comeback if they didn't win.  After all, what good is a comeback if it's not a win?  Comebacks that fall just short are footnotes, relatively meaningless and soon forgotten.

The Gamecocks would need a couple breaks.  They were on the road with an injured quarterback.  They simply couldn't have the ball not bounce their way.  They got their first break by winning the toss.  They would have the advantage of playing defense first. 

The defense that had played so well would need to play well again.  But this time they fell short.  The Tigers ran the ball four times and scored.  Carolina and Connor Shaw would need a touchdown to keep the game going.  On the first play Shaw hit Ellington at the nine.  1st and goal Gamecocks.  Then Shaw, not quite as mobile as usual, was sacked.  The Gamecocks would need 15 yards.

Second down was an incomplete pass.  On third down Nick Jones was open at the goalline and he got one hand on the ball, maybe two, but so did the defender who knocked the ball out from behind.  If the Gamecocks were going to win, they would have to convert 4th and goal from the 15.  Connor took the snap from shotgun.  Missouri only rushed their front four.  The rest of the defense was in some variant of man coverage.  From the television angle you couldn't see what was going on very well, but Bruce was being covered man to man.  He ran to the endzone and broke outside.  As he was breaking Connor planted and threw to where Bruce should be and was.  Shaw tied the game again.  This time at 24.

Shaw isn't perfect, and he makes mistakes.  He doesn't always lead touchdown drives, and in the second overtime he got the ball first.  He missed on two passes, and Carolina had to settle for a 40 yard field goal.  That's a long way for a freshman to make in overtime on the road, but Fry handled it.

In college most teams are in field goal range when they get the ball to start an overtime period.  Missouri was, so most sane fans weren't hoping to win the game then.  They were hoping that the defense could get another stop and force the field goal to send the game to triple overtime. 

Missouri got 17 yards on first down.  Triple overtime looked like the best a Gamecock could hope for, but it didn't look likely.  Then the defense got the stop.  Missouri had stalled at the six, and they would kick the field goal from there.  It wasn't a long kick.  Extra points are snapped from the three.  It was on the hash, though, and there was pressure not to fail.  The Tigers got a good snap and an ok hold.  The laces weren't out, but who knows how much that mattered.  The kick was pulled, left again.  It caromed off the upright as thousands of Missourians screamed in disbelief.

Carolina won, and a player who shouldn't be able to play for another week or two had led them back.  A player whose passing had been underappreciated and undervalued threw for over 200 yards in just over a quarter.  The win changed the trajectory of the season and gave the Gamecocks a shot at Atlanta.  They'll still need to win, and they'll still need some help, but it's very possible, maybe even probable.  Right now nobody knows who will beat who and what happen, but we should all have a very good idea in two to three weeks.