Buckshots: 1988 Gamecock Flashback

This series of audio blog posts recapping every season since 1987 were originally posted prior to the 2013 season and are sponsored by our friends at Blue Moon Disk.

The 1988 Gamecock football season was one of the more eventful in our program’s history, and not for good reasons.

In a 10-day stretch our 6-0 and eighth-ranked Gamecocks lost on the road to a 1-4 Georgia Tech team, and a few days later a huge steroid scandal was exposed at USC by Sports Illustrated. The story of Tommy Chaikin can be found here, and I encourage you to read it if you never have. The future of South Carolina football was very much in doubt, in our minds if not in reality, during that time.

After a late season swoon (sound familiar?) that included a 59-0 loss to Florida State, a loss at Clemson, and a loss to Indiana in the Liberty Bowl, we thought we would have a respite from bad football news for a while. Unfortunately, that was far from the case.

Head Coach Joe Morrison died tragically after playing racquetball at Williams-Brice Stadium on February 6, 1989. Not only was this a huge blow to the University, it also happened THREE DAYS before National Signing Day. Within two weeks Sparky Woods was hired from Appalachian State to try to put the pieces back together.

I’m trying to keep these flashbacks short and concise – under 10 minutes, but this one does run long because so much happened in 1988. (Plus I bore you with a couple of personal stories.)

Oh, and on a side note, the music in each Buckshots will come from the year we are featuring. I’m sure you recognize both songs so far, 1987 was “Walk Like and Egyptian” by The Bangles, and in the this episode we have “Faith” by George Michael. (Don’t judge, I’m just trying to give you a flavor of the time!)

Click here or click the graphic to listen. Enjoy!

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The Legacy of Connor Shaw

Florida v South Carolina

Steve Spurrier has done wonders for the University of South Carolina football program, becoming the winningest coach in school history and guiding the team to 40 wins (and counting) the last four years. The complaints about the HBC have been few and far between recently, but one of the primary knocks on Spurrier in his nine years as head coach at the University of South Carolina has been this:

His inability to bring an elite high school quarterback into the program.

It has been perplexing, one of the great offensive minds in the history of college football unable to bring in top shelf talent at the position which he knows the best.

Some of the names he has signed since 2005 include Tommy Beecher, Cade Thompson, Chris Smelley, Aramis Hillary, Reid McCollum, Andrew Clifford and Tanner McEvoy. Of those seven only Clifford completed his eligibility at USC.

Of course we all know the saga of the one elite quarterback Spurrier did bring in, Stephen Garcia, and we have guys currently on the roster in Dylan Thompson, Brendan Nosovitch and Connor Mitch whom we think have a chance to be very good.

But it was an unheralded recruit out of Flowery Branch, GA, that has now staked his claim as the not only the best quarterback of the Spurrier era, but quite possibly the greatest Gamecock quarterback of all time – Connor Shaw.

Shaw passed on offers from the likes of East Carolina, Stanford, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and West Virginia (he had no other SEC offers) to sign with USC and Steve Spurrier, one of his football heroes.

Shaw could’ve been just another one of those guys, another signal caller who couldn’t grasp the offense or handle the day-to-day grind of being a Steve Spurrier quarterback. But Shaw is a coach’s son, and a damn tough one at that.

The Head Ball Coach took a liking to Shaw during the recruiting process, and when he arrived in Columbia as an early enrollee in the spring of 2010, he immediately moved his way up the depth chart and by the start of the season was the back-up to the established Stephen Garcia.

Shaw came in for the first time in the 2010 season opener against Southern Miss and threw a touchdown pass, then got some snaps the next week against Furman.

In the fourth game of the season, Spurrier shocked everyone by turning to Shaw in the fourth quarter of a one-score game against Auburn after Garcia had fumbled on back-to-back possessions. Twice Shaw led the Gamecocks into Auburn territory only to throw interceptions in what turned out to be a 35-27 loss. But despite the turnovers Shaw showed composure in moving the USC offense that night. If we didn’t notice it, Spurrier surely did.

The rest of the 2010 season the team belonged to Garcia, and besides taking his first big knockout shot in a loss to Arkansas, Shaw’s season was relatively uneventful.

During 2011 fall practice Spurrier teased us all by telling us he didn’t know who the starting quarterback was going to be in the season opener against East Carolina. I mean, surely the incumbent, the Senior, the man who led us to the SEC East title the previous year would start under center, right?

Wrong. Days before the ECU game Spurrier announced Shaw would start over Garcia, simply stating that Shaw had had a better fall practice.

Shaw was shaky in that start, and Garcia came to the rescue to lead the Gamecocks to a 56-37 victory, and seemingly order had been restored. But, despite a big win over Georgia in Athens the following week, Garcia never got in the groove. Mediocre play in wins over Navy and Vanderbilt, and a horrible performance in a crushing defeat to Auburn led Spurrier to make the switch back to Shaw.

A different Shaw showed up that Saturday against Kentucky, confident and ready to take the reins once and for all. He threw for 311 yards and 4 TDs in a 54-3 rout of the Wildcats. When Stephen Garcia was dismissed from the team the following week, we knew we had to ride or die with Connor Shaw the rest of the way.

Shaw led us to huge back-to-back road victories over Mississippi State and Tennessee (critics always seem to conveniently forget these games when they argue he can’t win a big game on the road.) Following a loss to an outstanding Arkansas team, Shaw willed the Gamecocks to a tight win over Florida, and then passed for 217 yards and ran for 90 in a win over The Citadel.

The next week Shaw put together one of the best games of his career, passing for 210 yards and 3 TDs  and rushing for 107 yards and another score in a 34-13 rout of Clemson.

A Capital One Bowl win over Nebraska gave South Carolina their first 11-win season in school history, and finally Spurrier had the man he wanted leading the offense.

The 2012 season didn’t get off to the start the Gamecocks had hoped, with Shaw going down with a shoulder injury early in the first game against Vanderbilt. With Dylan Thompson ineffective, and despite excruciating pain, Shaw returned and simply willed USC to a win in Nashville.

He sat the following week, and a great game by Thompson against ECU started a debate that raged for a year and half – and still goes on in some minds – over who the starting quarterback should be.

Three straight wins set up a showdown with #5 Georgia, and in front of an ESPN national audience, Shaw and the Gamecocks played one of the most complete games in USC history, ripping the Bulldogs 35-7. Shaw completed only six passes, but amassed 162 yards and two TDs and also rushed for 78 yards and a TD.

The Gamecocks’ bubble was quickly burst with a close loss at LSU, and then a bizarre blowout loss at Florida that fueled the Shaw critics.

Shaw responded against Tennessee with a 356 yard, 3 TD performance on a day when Marcus Lattimore’s career at USC ended. Without Shaw’s performance that day the Gamecocks would have had a third straight loss and the season could’ve easily slipped away.

The next two weeks Shaw played and the Gamecocks won, but the beatings he had taken all year forced him to sit the finale against Clemson, and Thompson put together one of the legendary performances ever in the rivalry.

A still-injured Shaw and Thompson combined to lead the team to a dramatic win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl, and the program’s second consecutive 11-win season.

Coming into this season Spurrier talked of the two quarterbacks splitting time throughout the season, but early on it was evident that Shaw gave us the best chance to win week in and week out.

With the team sitting at 5-1, the season seemingly came crashing down on October 19 at Tennessee. Not only did we lose a huge divisional game to a bad Volunteer football team, but Shaw suffered what appeared to be a serious knee injury. I personally expected the worst, and figured the best case scenario would have him returning late in the season.

But as Shaw has done so many times in his career, he set aside the pain and dressed for the Missouri game, even though we didn’t expect him to play. Dylan Thompson was not bad that night, but with the Gamecocks down 17-0, Steve Spurrier asked Shaw if he could play. We needed a spark, he said.

Not only did Shaw play, but he cemented his legacy on that night in a comeback for the ages.

This past Saturday Connor Shaw became the winningest quarterback in South Carolina history. This coming Saturday Shaw will run the zone read and throw the deep post for the last time at Williams Brice Stadium. One month from now, Shaw will don the garnet and black for the final time.

I wish I could be there Saturday, I really do. Because those of you who are will be seeing the best quarterback in South Carolina history, by almost any measure, for the last time on his home field. And I hope when he is introduced there are 80,000 plus fans on their feet saluting him for what he has done for this program.

There are those of you who will debate and disagree over whether Shaw is the best, and that’s fine. We can talk statistics and arm strength and measurables until we’re blue in the face.

But there is one measure on which we can all agree, and the most important legacy he will leave on South Carolina football.

Connor Shaw is a winner.

Derek Dooley Takes A Stand

News came yesterday from UT Coach Derek Dooley that his players are filthy, parasite-infested hobgoblins. I’m certainly glad that Coach Dooley finally noticed what the rest of the SEC has known for decades, butI also thinkhe’s gone overboard by sharing his personal grooming tete-a-tete with the news media at a freakin’ press conference.

Actual photo from the heart-to-heart talk with the playas attached:

Head Coach Jame Gumb

First Take

I have a friend, let’s call him Munson.  Munson is a rabid UGA fan, and because his dad lives in Columbia and may or may not be a casual Gamecock fan (I’m not big into detail), believes he knows everything there is to know about our fan base.

We email a good bit, but actually  speak only about a dozen times a year.  One of those occasions is our annual preseason breakfast with two other big college football fans (Auburn, Wisconsin) to discuss our respective football programs and the outlook for the coming year.

When it comes around to me, like them I go into boring detail, position by position, schedule strength, staff changes, etc., and usually finish by telling the guys I’m cautiously optimistic we’ll make a run in the SEC East, but realistically we’re a 7-5, 8-4 kind of squad.

To this, Munson always says something along the lines of, “WHAT!?!  A South Carolina fan who doesn’t believe you’re going to win the national title?  I can’t believe it!  I’ve never met a Carolina fan who didn’t think THIS was the year!”

To which my reply is “What Carolina fan(s) are you talking to?  Seriously, I need to know so I can set them straight.”

At least that was my reply the first time.  Over the years my reply has become more expletive laden and smothered in incredulity.  Because, seriously, who and where are these fans of whom Munson speaks?

I’ve been aware of athletics at the University of South Carolina since about 1978.  I’ve been what I would consider a die-hard fan since 1987, and am a proud 1991 graduate.

With the exception of the Golden Era from June 12, 2010 through June 29, 2010, my life as a Gamecock fan has been fraught with misery.  With every one glimmer of hope came multiple doses of cold, hard reality.  And it was a stunning, bizarro reality at times – see Navy, The Citadel, Coppin State, Richmond, 63-17, Louisiana-Lafayette just to name a few of the most painful.  The point is this – I am optimistic by nature, but when it comes to Gamecock athletics my first inclination is to think the worst.

Which brings me to this blog, the brainchild of a gentleman you’ll come to know as T-bone.  He’ll be joined by me, Buck, and the G-man to give what we believe to be a realistic look at Gamecock sports – the highs, the mediums and the lows.   We’ll mostly focus on football, but will try to keep things going through basketball and baseball seasons.

We’ll sprinkle in some general college football ramblings, because after all it is the greatest sport known to man (all you World Cuppers can crawl back in your holes until 2014).  We probably won’t comment too much on the new women’s softball coach (unless she’s smokin’ hot) or the swimming and diving teams.  But we just might let you know about a new beer we’ve tried or a great movie we saw or a stellar new barbeque joint.

It’s a blank canvas right now, but we hope you enjoy what you read and will provide feedback on the content.  After all, I’ve heard people who blog about sports become rich beyond their wildest dreams within the first year.  I know I’m banking on that.

With that, I leave you with the greatest moment in the history of University of South Carolina sports.

-buck