South Carolina football: How freshman QBs have fared against Alabama in recent years
The popular thing to do when a young quarterback is looking for an upset against coach Nick Saban’s Alabama team is roll back to 2012 when Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, a redshirt freshman, walked into Bryant-Denny Stadium and upset the Crimson Tide.
Manziel and the Aggies won 29-24, but a glimpse at the numbers reveals he didn’t look that different from Jake Fromm or Trevor Lawrence, for example, especially passing. Manziel was 24-for-31 passing for 253 and 2 TDs. But he also added 18 carries for 92 yards as he breathed life into the offensive theory that a mobile quarterback is the way to beat a Saban-coached team.
The latest freshman to meet Alabama early in his career is South Carolina’s Ryan Hilinski, who has 1 start, and it was an impressive one, albeit against Charleston Southern. But for South Carolina, having a freshman start at quarterback is nothing new. He’s the second consecutive and 6th in program history alongside Bentley (2016), Brandon McIlwain (2016), Lorenzo Nunez (2015), Mikal Goodman (1999) and Steve Taneyhill (1992).
Coach Will Muschamp said there is plenty of room for growth but that Hilinski is already ahead of the average freshman quarterback.
“I’m not going to sit here and say we’re spoon feeding him,” Muschamp said after Saturday’s game. “The guy can handle what we’re doing. He’s extremely bright, he’s been here through spring, he was here for the entire installation over the summer, he’s been here through training camp. I think it’s easier for a younger player, especially at that position, when you start dwindling down the game plan. It’s not the entire playbook, we can narrow down the scope of what we’re asking him to do and what decision needs to be made.”
From the maturity Hilinski has shown following the sudden passing of his brother and profound impact that had on his family, to his intellect and talent, no one in the Gamecocks locker room appears nervous of how he’ll handle the environment on a nationally-televised game against No. 2 Alabama.
“Ryan’s always been real calm, real cool,” WR Bryan Edwards said. “He has always been outspoken. He has never been afraid, so I knew he wasn’t going to be rattled. Any time that you are a young quarterback, you get thrown in the fire, it’s obviously good for your confidence to have a game like we did (Saturday), and I think that will help him going into next week.”
After the touchdown he threw to Edwards, Hilinski celebrated by pointing 3 fingers to the sky in honor of his late brother, Tyler. It was something that just about every teammate acknowledged with little more than a shoulder shrug, because they already knew.
“Once I heard he was going to start this week, I think I was very excited,” newly-minted backup QB Dakereon Joyner said. “Because I know what he can do, and the rest of the world, at the time, didn’t know what he could do. Now y’all know.”
Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is widely viewed as in a class by himself as he impressively won a national title in smooth fashion, shredding Alabama’s defense in the process. Georgia’s Jake Fromm might be a notch below, but he did just about everything he could to try to pull off a similar monumental victory in 2017 before the Tide rallied.
The more average outing against Alabama for a freshman might be Tennessee’s Jarrett Guarantano and Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond.
Alabama is 3-1 against freshman quarterbacks over the past 2 years. Here’s a look at how the young signal callers performed:
Trevor Lawrence (2018)
Lawrence (Clemson) was 20-for-32 passing for 347 yards with 3 TDs. He also had 6 rushes for 27 yards in the 44-16 national championship victory for the Tigers.
Kellen Mond (2017)
Mond (Texas A&M) was 19-for-29 passing for 237 yards with 1 TD and 1 interception. He also had 11 carries for 19 yards in a 27-19 loss.
Jarrett Guarantano (2017)
As a redshirt freshman, Guarantano (Tennessee) went 9-for-16 passing for 44 yards with no touchdowns and 1 interception. He also lost 12 yards on 11 carries in a 45-7 loss.
Jake Fromm (2017)
A true freshman, Fromm (Georgia) went 16-for-32 passing for 232 yards with 1 TD and 2 interceptions. He also had 7 carries for a loss of 15 yards in a 26-23 overtime loss in the national championship.