A Study In Clutch Quarterback Play

By Rixon Lane

Is Dylan Thompson a clutch quarterback? 

As South Carolina sits at 4-4 with four games remaining in 2014, the question of whether the Gamecocks' signal-caller is "clutch" has been tossed around. 

In order to further examine this issue, let's compare Thompson with his predecessor and, arguably the greatest Gamecock quarterback of all time, Connor Shaw. 

For the purposes of this exercise, we'll be examining the play of each quarterback in games where his team trails at any point in the fourth quarter, one of the most pressure-packed times in a football game. 

In Shaw's 32 games as a starter, the Gamecocks trailed in the fourth quarter on nine occasions. In those quarters, Shaw's stat line looked like this:

40-of-61 484 passing yards    3 touchdowns   3 interceptions  1 fumble

The most accurate passer in school history, Shaw completed 65.6 percent of his passes in those quarters, but also turned the ball over four times. If you were to break down that line into an average fourth quarter with South Carolina trailing, this is what it would look like: 

4-of-7    54 passing yards      0 touchdowns   0 turnovers

Now, for Dylan. In his 11 career starts, South Carolina has been behind in the final 15 minutes five different times, nearly half his starts. Overall, here are his numbers in those five quarters:

20-of-45 210 passing yards     1 touchdown    5 interceptions    0 fumbles

Not exactly the stuff of legends. The interceptions are clearly a problem. However, if we break down his numbers into an average, we get something that looks fairly similar to Shaw:

4-of-9     42 passing yards       0 touchdowns  1 turnover

The biggest issue is obviously turning the ball over in the final quarter. Thompson has done it far more consistently in these situations than Shaw did.

But why is that?

The answer to this question may contain one of the biggest reasons that Shaw was able to succeed in "the clutch." 

In Shaw's nine quarters, the Gamecocks allowed 58 points. Technically, 56, since Shaw ran out of the end zone for a safety in the final seconds of a win at Mississippi State in 2011. 

Know how many points South Carolina has given up in Thompson's five quarters?

56. 

The Gamecocks are, on average, giving up nearly a touchdown more in the fourth quarter of games that they trail when Thompson is starting than when Shaw was the starter. Those points mean Dylan is taking more shots downfield and, consequently, throwing more interceptions. 

Obviously, different people will take different conclusions away from these numbers.

But maybe, just maybe, this shows that it's easier to be clutch late in the game when the other team isn't scoring.