It’s a new day for South Carolina’s quarterbacks

Thompson has the record to be the leader, but a derby of backups complete behind him

dcloninger@thestate.comApril 11, 2014 

Dylan Thompson and the quarterbacks at South Carolina's spring practice April 10, 2014, at Williams-Brice Stadium.

DWAYNE MCLEMORE — dmclemore@thestate.com

  • USC SPRING GAME

    When: Saturday, Noon

    Where: Williams-Brice Stadium

    Admission: Free

    TV: ESPNU

    Also: FanFest will be held before and after the game, starting at 9 a.m.

It was so easy the past two seasons. Connor Shaw starts at quarterback, and he plays the entire game. If he was hurt or South Carolina was way ahead, Dylan Thompson or any one of a sheaf of backups comes in.

With Shaw gone, the natural successor is Thompson. He’s the most polished and most ready of the Gamecocks’ QBs. There is no question that Thompson will start on Aug. 28 when Texas A&M visits to kick off the 2014 season.

But who’s first in line after that chasm? After a month of spring practice, the question is open-ended.

“(Steve Spurrier) said I am the No. 2 guy, but I don’t think that is written in stone yet,” walk-on Perry Orth recently said. “Me, Brendan (Nosovitch) and Connor (Mitch) are all competing to see who the best one will be in the fall.”

Nosovitch, Mitch and Orth lead the group. Veteran walk-on Austin Hails and redshirt freshman Grant Davitte are also on the spring roster. Freshman Michael Scarnecchia joins in the fall, and receiver Pharoh Cooper has played in the Wildcat package. There are plenty of bodies available.

Experience is held to one – Nosovitch, who played in three games last year and threw two passes. Spurrier first endorsed Orth as the top backup, but said this week that perhaps the publicity from the statement got to Orth. Mitch was “close to second” going into Saturday’s Garnet and Black Spring Game.

Do the Gamecocks need a clear-cut No. 2 quarterback right now? Of course not. There is a long summer and preseason waiting for each of the backups to prove themselves. They don’t need one cemented until Aug. 27, if not during the game on Aug. 28. Even when one is chosen, there will be an uneasy feeling until the chosen one gets in a game and produces.

Until then, it’s hoping that Thompson stays in every game, most of the game. Shaw’s fearless style often left him banged up and bruised on the sideline, but with Thompson’s proven experience, the Gamecocks never panicked. They won’t be able to fully relax this year until a backup proves himself when the lights are on – if there’s a need to.

“Dylan knows what he’s doing,” Spurrier recently said. “We all know Dylan’s going to be the quarterback, and, probably after the summer, we’ll have a backup ready.”

Thompson will play Saturday, but a half at most. The spring game will be the closest to live competition that the backups will face until the Aggies come to town, although the candidates be in limited contact.

While other players will rotate in and out and switch teams, the quarterbacks will dress in garnet and black and be responsible for the scoring Saturday. It is the spring game, but each of the backups will be have an audition, of sorts.

Nosovitch, the longest-tenured, sees how Thompson waited his turn and was rewarded. Mitch set all sorts of records in high school and was viewed as Shaw Part 2. Orth has been mentioned by Spurrier several times as throwing a terrific spiral. Cooper has done it in spurts, but could he do it for a full game if the Gamecocks needed him to?

Spring is for answers, and USC may find one today.

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