McIlwain pushing Orth for Gamecocks' starting QB job
One of the most compelling stories from SEC preseason workouts is the quarterback derby at South Carolina.
It was a five-man race in the spring, and with the transfer of Connor Mitch and the addition of early enrollee Jake Bentley, it remained that way heading into the summer.
But a shoulder injury to Michael Scarnecchia, the shifting of Lorenzo Nunez to wide receiver (on a part-time basis) and the obvious learning curve ahead of Bentley, that race has really come down to just two players.
Now, the question is will new coach Will Muschamp put his offense in the hands of talented freshman Brandon McIlwain, or will he lean on last year’s starter, Perry Orth?
Early in camp, they have split reps with the first team.
McIlwain, who also played baseball for South Carolina, has impressed since he arrived on campus in January, and even his competitor for the starting job has high praise for him.
“(He) throws it about as good as I have seen,” Orth told The State last week. “There are flashes every day. There were a few plays today where you just went, ‘Wow, that kid’s talented.’ He works hard, which makes it easy for me to compliment him. I am really excited for his future.”
Despite McIlwain’s rise up the depth chart, it was Orth who worked with the first team in the team’s first practice in pads Saturday.
He seems to be recovered from the broken collarbone that kept him out during the spring, and while he may not have the same physical gifts as McIlwain, he has the benefit of having taken snaps in SEC contests.
That sort of experience has to be appealing to his head coach.
“To me, the biggest stats are explosive plays and taking care of the ball. Turnover margin and big-play ratio. You’re not giving them up on defense, you’re making them on offense. You’re taking care of the ball on offense, you’re taking it away on defense,” he told The State last week. “You want to go back to who’s in the NFL playoffs every year and who’s playing well in college football, for the most part every year, it goes back to those two stats.”
Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper agrees.
“Experience is obviously a huge advantage,” he said on Wednesday. “You’ve been in the stadiums before, you’ve gotten ready for a game before and gone through all the butterflies and the anxiety to go along with it. Being in the battles before definitely helps.”
Considering that poor offensive play was the primary issue in Muschamp’s tenure at Florida, it’s hard to imagine that he wouldn’t give Orth every chance to win the job.
So, it won’t be a shock if the senior starts the opener at Vanderbilt next month. But fans dreaming of McIlwain behind center should take heart.
The freshman wouldn’t be taking first-team reps if there weren’t big plans for him. In addition, Roper has a history of designing packages for multiple quarterbacks, particularly goal-line packages specifically for running quarterbacks.
With McIlwain’s and Nunez’s considerable athleticism, a creative offensive mind will surely find ways to get them on the field.
It could be a case of the South Carolina coaching staff having its cake, and eating it, too.