COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Injured South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw is expected to start when the 13th-ranked Gamecocks face Kentucky on Saturday night.
Shaw, who injured his shoulder against last Saturday against UCF, was expected to be out up to three weeks. But Shaw practiced Monday and coach Steve Spurrier said he watched the QB throw the ball about 60 yards. He's progressed strongly throughout the week and will start when the Gamecocks (3-1, 1-1 SEC) host Kentucky (1-3, 0-1).
Spurrier had no explanation for Shaw's quick return other than maybe the QB's injury was not as serious as initially believed.
"Our trainer had him out two to three weeks," Spurrier said. "You'll have to ask our trainers how he made such a miraculous recovery."
Shaw left the UCF game early, was taken to the locker room and returned with his right, throwing arm in a sling and ice on what looked like a badly damaged shoulder. But like several other times in the senior's college career, it appears that Shaw will shake off any pain and get back to work.
He had sustained an injury to the same shoulder in the 2012 season opener at Vanderbilt, yet returned late in the game to lead a go-ahead touchdown drive in South Carolina's 17-13 victory.
"I think we all know that he's the toughest guy a lot of us have seen," said Dylan Thompson, Shaw's backup who was expected to start the next two games.
Thompson came in led a second-half rally as South Carolina went from trailing 10-0 to grabbing a 28-10 lead. UCF almost pulled off a comeback of its own, drawing within a field goal with two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Still, the Gamecocks missed Shaw. He is fourth in SEC pass efficiency and has thrown six touchdowns without an interception.
Shaw is 20-4 during his career as the Gamecocks' starter and is only one of two South Carolina quarterbacks (1970s-era quarterback Jeff Grantz is the other) to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a career.
Even if Shaw was out, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops knows his defense will have to stop South Carolina's run game. Tailback Mike Davis leads the SEC with 127 yards rushing a game. His six touchdowns rank second in the league. And the Gamecocks had the SEC offensive lineman of the week its past two games, center Clayton Stadnik against Vanderbilt and left guard A.J. Cann against UCF.
"I think if you just look at us as a program, you know, as a defensive guy, if you can't stop power running teams in this league you got zero chance to win," Stoops said.
Shaw's quick progression is a bit of good news for Spurrier after a troubling few days.
The Gamecocks will be without reserve receiver Shaq Roland for two more games for what the school said is a suspension for violating university rules.
No. 2 tailback Brandon Wilds dislocated is elbow against UCF and is out three-to-four weeks, Spurrier said. Freshman David Williams, who the team had planned to redshirt, will likely see some action against Kentucky.
Spurrier was again unhappy about South Carolina surrendering points late and the Gamecocks needing to recover an onside kick to hold off UCF. A game earlier, South Carolina led Vanderbilt 28-0 before the Commodores cut the final margin to 35-25.
The coach also wasn't happy about two of his top defenders in All-American end Jadeveon Clowney and cornerback Victor Hampton being critical of the defense as a whole following the UCF win. Clowney and Hampton didn't call out individuals, but said the defense was not the same as a year ago and needed to improve.
Spurrier countered Tuesday that unless anyone played a perfect game, they should leave the critiques to coaches. Spurrier said he spoke with the two about that upon returning to campus.
And Spurrier, sounding very serious, said if South Carolina is holding a two-score lead in the final three minutes or so of the game, he'd take a knee on offense to drain the clock and prevent teams mounting comebacks like he's seen the past two games.
"We all live and learn," he said.
He might not have to worry about Kentucky mounting a comeback. The Wildcats have scored 29 points after halftime in four games and produced nothing over the final three quarters in last Saturday's 24-7 loss to then-No. 20 Florida, totaling just 173 yards.
Kentucky has totaled 339 yards while being outscored 92-20 in the past two games in this series. Shaw has picked apart the Wildcats, completing 71.9 percent of his passes for 459 yards and six TDs without an interception while also running for 118 yards.