COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s quarterback situation remains unsettled after two games.
Senior Perry Orth started the Gamecocks’ first two contests at Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. However, after trailing the Bulldogs 24-0 at the half, freshman Brandon McIlwain who took over in the second half and rallied the Gamecocks to two touchdowns in a 27-14 loss.
Look for McIlwain to get even more playing time when South Carolina opens its home season against fired-up East Carolina, fresh off a victory over North Carolina State last week.
Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said his offensive staff “has a pretty good idea” who’ll start against the Pirates, but like before the Vanderbilt game, will keep things under wraps until game time.
“Both are repping at the position,” Muschamp said Tuesday.
There’s no divide on the team about the quarterbacks, tailback A.J. Turner said, although each brings a different skillset to the position.
“The second half we played with a faster tempo and I feel like we do better when we play faster,” Turner said. “I think that’s what Brandon McIlwain brings to the table.”
McIlwain was a highly regarded high-school passer who had offers to play from Auburn, Florida, Tennessee and UCLA among others. He was also a prized baseball prospect, who was tracking to be a high-round pick in the Major League Baseball draft last June before deciding to sign with the Gamecocks.
Muschamp and quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper spent all spring and summer trying to whittle down a wide-open quarterback race. Orth had the experience after starting eight games last year while McIlwain and fellow freshman Jake Bentley are clearly South Carolina’s future at the position.
Orth’s experience won out early and he rallied South Carolina from 10-0 down at Vanderbilt in Week 1 for a 13-10 victory. Orth was less effective at Mississippi State, going 9 of 17 for 83 yards and an interception in the first two quarters as the Gamecocks fell behind 24-0.
Orth got little help, however, from South Carolina’s offensive line or its running backs. Orth was sacked twice and the Gamecocks finished 34 yards on the ground.
Muschamp said the more playing time McIlwain receives, the quicker he’ll adjust to the college game.
“The game will continue to slow down for these guys and they’ll improve,” Muschamp said.
Turner, also a freshman, sounded like he had a preference at quarterback. Turner said McIlwain brings a greater sense of urgency on offense, something he believes can only help improve the unit. He’s not turning against Orth, who he believes is a talented leader instrumental to the Gamecocks lone victory so far.
East Carolina coach Scottie Montgomery is prepping for Orth’s throwing and McIlwain’s ability to cause chaos to defenses with his dual-threat nature.
“All in all, it presents a tough challenge,” Montgomery said.
Even for South Carolina. Muschamp has several times if he had a player separate himself from the others at quarterback, that would be his starter. So far, that hasn’t happened.
Part of the problem is the opening half where the Gamecocks have zero points through two games.
South Carolina offensive lineman Mason Zandi does not understand the slow starts — or why the offense heats up after that.
“I can’t pinpoint what worked for us in the second half,” Zandi said. “We just went to locker room, made some adjustments and moved on.”
Muschamp said the slow starts are on the coaches, who haven’t put players in position to excel early on. “Felt like it was our execution,” he said.
The first-year coach hopes the right quarterback will get things going a bit faster on Saturday.
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org