It’s OK if you’re not a Spencer Rattler fan. Don’t take this as my attempt to convert non-believers.

I’m not going to try to convince anyone that the South Carolina quarterback is about to win a Heisman Trophy and become the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. That ship has sailed. It also sailed for 99.99% of the people who played the quarterback position at the FBS level. Rattler isn’t in the .01%. Maybe his arm is, but he’s a flawed player who is going to have to continue to make adjustments to maximize that out-of-this-world talent.

So let’s come back down to earth because that’s where Rattler is playing the position.

Imperfect, he is. But Rattler is still going to be South Carolina’s best chance at having that desired Year 2 season with Shane Beamer.

A daunting schedule needs a quarterback who can make plays others can’t. Even amidst a 2-game start that saw him take 9 sacks and throw 3 interceptions, Rattler’s strengths are undeniable. You watch the juice on Rattler’s 3rd-and-17 ball to Juice Wells (pun intended), which went for 6, and you understand why Marcus Satterfield is so insistent on trying to maintain a downfield passing game while working through a subpar offensive line.

You see a few things from that throw and catch. One is that Rattler had an empty-back set against a 4-man rush. Protection held, or it at least held long enough for his first read (Wells) to find the soft spot in zone coverage. There also might’ve been a miscommunication in the Arkansas secondary because there were 2 defenders on the outside receiver and Wells had nobody within 10 yards of him.

Whatever the case, you can tell that when Rattler is in rhythm, he can make an on-target throw to bail a team out of a bad situation (Austin Stogner also had a huge downfield block on that play to free Wells). Getting in rhythm is easier said than done, especially with those offensive line issues. Defenses like Arkansas can snuff out the quick-hitting passing game. Shoot, even Georgia State had that snuffed out.

Satterfield’s adjustments could include adding protection, even if that means taking away one of Rattler’s throwing options. If Rattler can’t work through his 3rd or 4th progression anyway, doesn’t it make sense to give him some protection help from a tight end or a running back?

Rattler attempted 76 passes in his first 2 games with the Gamecocks, plus, he has 16 combined sacks taken/rushing attempts. Here are the amount of pass-blocking snaps that the South Carolina running backs and tight ends have so far, via PFF:

  • Marshawn Lloyd, 14 pass-blocking snaps (74.8 PFF grade)
  • Austin Stogner, 9 pass-blocking snaps (33.3 PFF grade)
  • JuJu McDowell, 7 pass-blocking snaps (80.8 PFF grade)
  • Jaheim Bell, 0
  • Nate Adkins, 0
  • Traevon Kenion, 0
  • Dante Miller, 0
  • Christian Beal-Smith, 0

My rough math tells me that Rattler has had 92 passes/sacks taken/rushing attempts, and only 30 had an additional blocker. If he were experienced in the scheme and capable of stepping up in the pocket while getting through his progressions like the 2021 version of Matt Corral, you’d be OK with that. Or if you had a run-heavy quarterback like KJ Jefferson or Hendon Hooker, you could trust him to find that balance within the scheme.

Rattler gained 12 pounds to become more durable and versatile within the offense. But so far, he still looks like someone who runs to throw — or drifts to his right to throw — instead of trying to make plays with his legs past the line of scrimmage. That might not change anytime soon.

South Carolina’s offensive line struggles might not go away anytime soon, either. Unless you’re Alabama in the 2021 SEC Championship, your offensive line isn’t supposed to suddenly figure things out against Georgia. If Satterfield insists on continuing to dial up empty-back sets or have 5 potential pass-catchers operating out of 12 personnel (1 running back and 2 tight ends), Rattler won’t have a prayer against Georgia on Saturday.

In Satterfield’s defense, he’s trying to disguise looks. South Carolina’s offensive line isn’t good enough to be predictable like Arkansas. That’s why we’ve seen Bell line up all over the field, including at tailback, where he played 16 of his 58 offensive snaps so far. But being unpredictable is all for naught if protection breaks down and your quarterback defaults to bad habits.

I don’t know that you can coach Rattler out of his Bo Nix-like habit of drifting to his right instead of stepping up in the pocket. Only game action can simulate that. Arm talent can let a quarterback get away with a bad habit like that because Rattler is still plenty capable of delivering an NFL throw while drifting, just as he did against Georgia State. I thought Roman Harper, Jordan Rodgers and Tim Tebow correctly diagnosed that well during last Saturday’s SEC Nation.

“His greatest strength is also his greatest weakness,” Tebow said on SEC Nation last Saturday. “It’s his arm ability. His ability to throw it with velocity and accuracy. He can get away with drifting. He did it so much in high school. He even did it against lesser competition. But then against Texas and those teams, it’s ‘Oh, I can’t get away with it because that ball that I placed perfect, now they can get their hands on it.’ And also, if he does that in the SEC, it’ll lead to turnovers.

“But I think he has grown, I think he has learned, I think he has adapted and he has some really good coaches who are going to teach him some more of those fundamentals. We also need to remember that he might have the most gifted arm in the SEC.”

Yep. All fair points.

When have we ever said those words about the South Carolina starting quarterback? Like, the team that hasn’t had a signal-caller drafted or selected to the all-conference team since it joined the SEC? Well, that answered the question. With all due respect to the rest of the South Carolina quarterback room, Rattler still has the best tools to execute Satterfield’s offense.

The good news for Rattler is that he doesn’t have a Caleb Williams waiting for him to take his job. More important, he doesn’t have fans chanting for the backup like he did in late-September at Oklahoma last year. Sure, there are some disgruntled South Carolina fans after a pair of slow offensive starts. There’s nothing wrong with wanting more from a unit blessed with weapons.

If Beamer again points to Georgia’s gobs of 5-star talent after another lopsided loss to the Dawgs, that’d be a frustrating pill to swallow. Don’t get it twisted. Expectations should be held in check for South Carolina, which will enter Saturday as a 24.5-point home underdog against the defending champs. It’s by no means a make-or-break game for the “is Rattler going to maximize his potential” discussion.

This is Rattler’s first time he has to come back after losing a start since October 2020. Considering his roller-coaster the past 12 months, it’s easy to forget that. Arkansas served as a reminder that those ups and downs aren’t necessarily in the rearview mirror. Beamer didn’t go out and get Rattler because he thought Rattler was the next Heisman winner. He brought him to Columbia because he gave his program the best chance to take a step forward against a daunting schedule in Year 2.

Rattler can still lead South Carolina to that Year 2 step, no matter how ugly Saturday is. He needs time and he needs adjustments.

Most important, South Carolina needs him.