Watching Shaw gives Georgia defense heartburn

Containing run and pass can be a difficult task

pobley@thestate.comOctober 5, 2012 

South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw (14) dives for the end zone in the first quarter of the Gamecocks game against Missouri at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC. The play was called back after a flag.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

There are two leggy plays that stand out this season when opposing teams break down film of South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw.

There’s the scrambling 20-yard pass completion to Bruce Ellington against UAB when Shaw reaggravated his injured shoulder while taking an especially brutal hit.

There’s also the 80-yard run for a touchdown against Missouri that was called back because of a clipping penalty.

Though both plays had something of a negative result, both illustrate how dangerous Shaw is, especially when there is an elite running back like Marcus Lattimore lining up behind him. No. 5 Georgia will be the next team to try to solve the riddle of No. 6 USC’s backfield on Saturday in front of a national audience on television.

“When you watch him, he’s very athletic, very tough,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I’ve seen him drop back in the pocket and make great throws and I’ve seen him be very wise if things weren’t open. He begins to scramble and he’s probably completed just as many balls off the scramble as he has from the pocket.”

Shaw has completed 35 of 39 pass attempts in the past two weeks, and it’s that added threat as a passer that gives the Georgia defense heartburn, according to linebacker Christian Robinson. Georgia’s defense can do everything right when it comes to accounting for Lattimore and Shaw’s receivers and can even be doing a decent job on Shaw, only to see things break down because of his ability to keep plays alive.

“You have to do well on a first down, second down, maybe a third down to make Connor Shaw make a throw and keep him in the pocket,” Robinson said. “He makes a lot of throws on the run and that’s the big thing for us.

“He’s an athlete,” Robinson continued. “He’s faster than Stephen Garcia, he’s throwing a little better at this point, in my experience, than Garcia, which makes him dangerous.”

Shaw has amassed more than 200 yards rushing even without the 80-yard touchdown. Richt has come to marvel at Shaw’s ability to make the right decisions.

“He’ll cross the line of scrimmage,” Richt said. “They do have the designed QB run for him, but he also has a lot of yards rushing coming off a drop-back pass as well. He’s just a very dangerous quarterback and a guy who is making tremendous decisions.”

Bulldogs defensive tackle Abry Jones said Shaw has been exceptional at getting teams to commit to his running ability only to burn them with his arm.

“You’re really kind of scared of him running sometimes and I’ve seen teams react more to his running and he gets the ball off while he’s running,” Jones said. “The wide receivers are able to get open and he hits them downfield while he’s running. That’s something we have to look for.”

Georgia defensive lineman John Jenkins compared Shaw and Lattimore to West Virginia’s former standout duo of quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton.

It’s a comparison that has, well, legs.

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