Dylan Thompson understands he must learn to temper his emotions, even in the midst of one of his biggest successes as South Carolina quarterback.
Thompson was admonished by South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier for his part in a way-too-early sideline celebration in the fourth quarter with the Gamecocks up 38-28 on top-10 Georgia last week. Despite a late charge by the Bulldogs, No. 14 South Carolina held on for a three-point win and brought Thompson a signature victory since becoming the team's starter this year.
"Yeah, I was excited," said Thompson, a senior. "I've never been too quiet about letting myself get excited out there. I enjoy playing football."
Thompson expects to keep calmer when the Gamecocks (2-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) head to Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-1) on Saturday night.
He's in no danger of getting on Spurrier's bad side, though, the Head Ball Coach saying this week he'd remain starter even if he threw five straight interceptions.
"I didn't know he said that," Thompson said, grinning. "If y'all see that happen, I guess we'll see if it's true or not."
Thompson spent the past three seasons behind Connor Shaw, who Spurrier regularly touted as the greatest quarterback in South Carolina history.
Thompson, though, has played big off the bench. As a sophomore in 2012, Thompson threw for 330 yards and three TDs in a 48-10 win over East Carolina with Shaw banged up.
He saved his most exhilarating play for that year. He passed for three touchdowns to lift the Gamecocks to 27-17 win over rival Clemson at Death Valley for an injured Shaw. Five weeks later, it was Thompson who threw the game-winning TD pass to Bruce Ellington against Michigan at the Outback Bowl — a game best remembered for Jadeveon Clowney's helmet-popping hit.
Thompson, with Shaw's big shoes to fill, didn't get off to the smoothest of starts this season in a 52-28 loss to No. 6 Texas A&M. While he passed for 366 yards and four touchdowns, Thompson was sacked three times and threw an interception in the Aggies' win.
Everyone, Thompson said, bounced back in a 33-23 win over East Carolina a week later to prepare for the Georgia game. Thompson got the Gamecocks going early with three first-half touchdowns for a 24-13 lead. They kept regained a 10-point lead on Brandon Wilds' 24-yard rushing TD early in the final period, charging up players and fans at the sold-out stadium.
When Spurrier saw Thompson celebrating too hard, too soon, he let him know that's not a leader's role.
"I said, 'Dylan, man, you're the quarterback. You're not supposed to be jumping around like it's over. Keep the guys' minds on the game,'" Spurrier said.
Spurrier was proven right as Georgia drew within three points, then reached South Carolina's 4 after Thompson's interception with less than six minutes to go. The Bulldogs got no closer, yet Thompson pledged to do better at keeping his teammates' focused.
"I understand what he's saying. Stay in the flow of the game and keep control," he said. "I've got to do a better job of that."
Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason thinks Thompson's showing he belongs with the top SEC quarterbacks this season after the Georgia win. "Dylan Thompson had his best game in terms of formulating an explosive offense," he said.
Thompson's least favorite football memories came at Vanderbilt two years ago when Shaw got hurt right before halftime and the backup was ineffective — 0-for-3 passing, sacked twice — and Spurrier brought his starter back to finish off a 17-13 win.
South Carolina left guard A.J. Cann believes Thompson's eager to make amends for that showing this Saturday night.
"Knowing him, I would say so. He's been studying tape on Vandy's defense since we left the field against Georgia," Cann said.
Thompson is more the drop back passer that Spurrier developed during his "Fun-n-Gun" days at Florida from 1990-2001. So far, that shows with Thompson, fourth in the SEC at 310 yards a game, on pace to shatter South Carolina's single-season yardage mark.
"It's way too early" to consider that, Thompson said.
For him, it's one step — and one big victory — at a time.