Connor Shaw #14 of the South Carolina Gamecocks reacts after making a first down against the Vanderbilt Commodores during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on September 14, 2013 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
By Ron Aiken, GamecockCentral.com
Connor Shaw has been waiting a long time for a game like this.
Long dogged as purely a running quarterback, Shaw took those criticisms to heart last week, focusing on showcasing his underrated arm against a Vanderbilt defense keyed up to stop a potent South Carolina rushing attack.
The result was a 35-25 win for No. 13 South Carolina over Vanderbilt and some of the best offensive numbers Shaw or Steve Spurrier have produced in their South Carolina careers - two drives of 90-plus yards in the first half, 579 yards of total offense (second-most in the Spurrier era at USC) and 31 first downs.
"This is what you hope for coming out of high school, coming out of the gate," Shaw said of his successful night. "We're playing well. We jumped on them quick and I thought we played solid in the first half.
"I feel like this was the most I've felt prepared for a game, and that's hats off to my quarterbacks coach, G.A. Mangus. I felt really comfortable coming into this game."
What's more, on a night when turnovers by Dylan Thompson and a Shon Carson fumble led to 15 second-half Vanderbilt points, the reliable Shaw didn't turn the ball over at all even while rushing for the most times (19) and the most yards (84).
And yeah, there was also the matter of his arm, which he used to throw for 284 yards on 21-of-29 passing (72.4 percent) and three touchdowns while connecting with nine different receivers.
"I feel like I am (improving as a passer)," Shaw said. "I told my receivers earlier in the week I was going to let it fly this week."
Shaw's top target Saturday was Bruce Ellington, who caught eight passes for 111 yards and a touchdown. Ellington said his quarterback was at the top of his game.
"(Shaw) did well throwing and running the ball," Ellington said. "It is hard to play against a quarterback that can throw and run. He's been coming to practice and stepping up and being a leader and coming out every day to work. He has gotten his confidence back and he is stepping up and making plays."
That confidence has a lot to do with Shaw's 12-0 record as a starter at Williams-Brice, which accounts for the lion's share of the Gamecocks' 13-game home winning streak, the longest in school history.
Head coach Steve Spurrier was impressed by what Shaw brought to the table in a key Eastern Division matchup.
"I thought he had a heck of a game," Spurrier said. "He's really a good passer. We gave him a game ball.
"That might have been the best we looked on offense since I've been here, in the first quarter, anyways, and then it started slowing down a bit."
For Shaw, the only thing that could dampen his spirits after the game wasn't anything Vanderbilt did but the fans.
"I don't think there's any excuse for our stands to be emptying out," Shaw said. "I was kind of disappointed in that."
But regardless of what fans do or don't, one thing is certain - Shaw is playing the best football of his career.
"It's my senior year," Shaw said. "I'm just having fun playing football."
Ron Aiken writes for GamecockCentral.com