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Let the competition commence

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier loves a good quarterback competition. The competition this year is for the second spot behind Connor Shaw but quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus wants it to feel like a race for the top spot.

Junior Connor Shaw

Dylan Thompson, a redshirt freshman last season, emerged as the No. 2 quarterback last season if something happened to Shaw. USC’s starter went down in both the Arkansas game and in the waning minutes of the Capital One Bowl and it was Thompson to the rescue. He was also the first quarterback off the bench in a blowout win over The Citadel.

This year, though, the race for No. 2 is open again. Junior Adnrew Clifford, redshirt freshman Tanner McEvoy and senior Seth Strickland are all in the hunt for the job behind Shaw. Just don’t tell quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus their racing to be the backup. He, like Spurrier, wants to have a quarterback competition that includes Shaw.

“I don’t want them to try to act like they’re trying to be the No. 2 guy, I want them to act like they’re trying to beat Connor out,” Mangus said. “If you take any other attitude, then I think you’re selling the program short.”

Mangus did say that Shaw “is the pretty obvious choice” as the number one quarterback, but everyone else is just one play away from being the new number one.

“The more talent you continue to recruit and bring in, you hope there’s a constant quarterback battle and I’ll never change on that,” Mangus said. “That’s something that I learned from coach Spurrier a long time ago. I think anybody who knows anything about coaching knows that competition makes everybody better. It makes common sense.”

Shaw will get a lot of reps this spring as he continues to become a more experienced quarterback. He started eight games, but there is still a lot of work to do as he looks for a new number one receiver. The Gamecocks only began to excel on offense over the final few starts of the regular season, so Shaw will still see plenty of snaps.

That being said, the focus in the spring is usually for the younger players. There has to be two quarterbacks at minimum just in case something happens to Shaw. The race was always pretty close between Thompson and Clifford for the No. 2 spot but Spurrier and Mangus will start from scratch this spring.

“Everyone has a chance to put their mark on it and raise themselves to be the guy if something were to happen to Connor,” Mangus said. “It’s going to be an interesting spring. It’s a big spring for all of them.”

Junior Andrew Clifford

Based on the fact that he was the first guy off the sidelines last season, Thompson probably holds the inside track to the number two job. As a redshirt freshman, the former Boiling Springs High School standout played in four games and completed both of his pass attempts for a total of 17 yards.

Thompson was typically just ran the zone-read play with whoever was in at the running back position. In 2011, he carried the ball five times for a total of 16 yards. He had a long of eight yards and a touchdown.

“Dylan needs a ton of reps,” Mangus said. “Dylan was the guy last year who would come in and play a little bit. He’s had some reps and made great improvement since the day he got here. I’m anxious to see if his progression is going to continue this spring.”

Clifford also played a few snaps for the Gamecocks last season. He appeared in one game and completed both of his pass attempts, which included a 23-yard touchdown strike. He ran once for six yards as well.

A junior, Clifford’s reps increased last spring when former quarterback Stephen Garcia was suspended from the team.

“Andrew needs some reps this as well, but he’s gotten some,” Mangus said. “Last spring he got a bunch compared to the springs before because of everything with Stephen. He was kind of the beneficiary of Stephen not being there last spring. Some guys, you kind of know where they’re at and what they’re going to get. That’s very typical, not a positive or negative towards anybody.”

Clifford has played in three games during his career and has completed 3-of-4 passes for 33 yards. He has a touchdown and an interception to his credit.

Strickland has played in every game each of the last two years serving as the holder on extra points and field goals. He has only thrown a pair of passes but completed them both, one of which went for a touchdown.

“Let me tell you something - Seth is a pretty good player,” Mangus said. “Whenever he’s been given an opportunity, which hasn’t been a ton, he’s done some good things. He’s smart and knows the offense as well as anybody in the room.

“He’s a valuable player and a valuable asset to our program in a lot of ways. I don’t know how many reps we’ll be able to give everybody this spring, but it’s a situation that we’re excited about. I know they’re all excited about next week.”

Add in McEvoy and it’s a four-horse race for the backup quarterback spot. The 15-practice slate, which begins on March 13 at 4:15 p.m., will go a long way into determining who will earn the spot behind Shaw. While a leader may emerge, the competition will reopen when fall camp begins on August 3.

“I think with the way spring practice is right now, I think it’s a little bit unrealistic,” Mangus said, when asked if he wanted to have a good idea of a second-stringer after the Garnet & Black Spring Game. “If somebody separates themselves in the spring, then that’s fine. If not, then you carry it over into August.”

Enjoy what Mangus had to say about the battle for the No. 2 quarterback position? See what he had to say about Shaw and McEvoy:

Mangus: Shaw is “ahead of the game”

Spring is McEvoy’s time to shine

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