What should fans expect from Connor Mitch and the offense Thursday?

PPOTO: CHRIS GILLESPIE

PPOTO: CHRIS GILLESPIE

Redshirt sophomore Connor Mitch is a day away from his first collegiate start. He’s only played in two games, going 2-for-6 for 19 yards, but now he’s getting ready to take the field for the first time as the starter.

Mitch (6-foot-3, 211 pounds) looks every bit an SEC quarterback, a towering force with an arm cannon who’s ready to take on the leadership role that comes along with being a quarterback.

Spurrier told the media after naming the starter for the UNC game, Mitch can be the guy all season.

"(Mitch) can be the starter for the entire year," Spurrier said. "We're going to give him every opportunity to take the reins and run with it. We are going to support him and give him every chance to be the quarterback for the entire year."

If Mitch starts every game this season, he’d have at least 12 starts, putting him in special company.

Only five South Carolina quarterbacks under Spurrier have at least 12 starts: Blake Mitchell, Chris Smelley, Stephen Garcia, Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson.

All five would go on to leave their mark on the program, each throwing for at least 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns; Mitchell, Garcia, Shaw and Thompson all rank in the top eight in school history in passing touchdowns.

And now Mitch steps onto the field to try and continue to build on the foundation those five helped lay.

But when Mitch trots on the field Thursday at Bank of America Stadium, should Gamecock fans expect an aerial bombardment?

If history in any indication, the answer could be no.

The Gamecocks have won four of the five games started by those quarterbacks with the only loss being a 24-17 defeat to LSU in Garcia’s first start in 2008.

Mitchell’s first start was a 24-15 win over UCF in Steve Spurrier’s first game at South Carolina in 2005 while Smelley led the Gamecocks to a 28-14 victory over Louisiana Lafayette in the 2007 season opener. He and Tommy Beecher shared reps during the game.

Shaw, who was the only one of the five pulled in his first collegiate start, saw his team get into a 17-0 hole to East Carolina in the 2011 opener before Garcia led the team to a 56-37 victory.

Thompson’s first start was the more dominant of the five, stomping ECU in 2012 48-10.

But in those games, none of the quarterbacks really let the ball fly. Only once did a quarterback throw more than 30 times. Dylan Thompson threw the ball 37 times in his first start, completing 21 for three touchdowns.

Even then, the Gamecocks rushed the ball 41 times. In each of the five quarterbacks’ first starts, the offense had more running plays than passing.

It was a run-heavy offense that let those quarterbacks gain their footing before opening up later in their careers.

In all five starts, the Gamecocks had solid to great running backs, ranging from Cory Boyd, both Mike Davises and Marcus Lattimore. In those games, Spurrier and the coaching staff relied on their backfield to help shoulder the load.

In those five starts, backs rushed for a combined 745 yards or, on average, 149 yards per game.  

So what does this mean for Mitch?

It could mean a run-heavy offense to start the season for the Gamecocks.

Mitch is a talented yet unproven commodity, but the Gamecocks have proven backs in Brandon Wilds and David Williams surrounding him. Both Wilds and Williams stepped in last season and played meaningful minutes.

The two combined for 853 yards and six touchdowns and are looking to be a deadly one-two punch this season. They could be a reliable crutch for Mitch to use in the first game so he can get his feet under him.

Now, Mitch will eventually settle down and start slinging the ball much like Mitchell, Smelley, Garcia, Shaw and Thompson did after a few starts. And if he can lean on the rushing attack and get settled early on, he could find his place on South Carolina’s 3,000-yard passing list.