Will a quarterback change solve the Gamecocks woes? A bye week opens the possibility
If you’re of the belief that a quarterback change could spring South Carolina out of its see-saw nature under coach Will Muschamp, all you have to is recall the 2016 season.
The team got off to a 2-4 start ahead of a bye week. Enter Jake Bentley, following the week off, for his career debut, and the Gamecocks ran off a 3-game winning streak, including over a ranked Tennessee team, which was Muschamp’s lone win at South Carolina over a ranked opponent until Georgia last season. Bentley passed for 6 touchdowns and zero interceptions in those 3 games.
Is that the kind of spark the Gamecocks need this season? They’re off this week, and return to action on Nov. 7 against Texas A&M. Muschamp opened the door to that possibility with comments made Sunday night on his media teleconference. Ryan Hilinski and Luke Doty, who made some appearances against LSU, are the possibilities.
“We’re going to give Ryan and Luke a bunch of reps this week along with Collin,” Muschamp said, per SportsTalkSC. “We feel like Collin gives us our best chance to win right now. Certainly we’re going to give Ryan and Luke (reps). That was the plan before Saturday night anyways to continue to develop that position.”
If that was the plan before the disappointing LSU loss, then that takes some weight off the QB change theory. However, Muschamp noted that in the LSU game, Hill held the ball too long at times, which led to more than 1 of the 5 sacks. Missing big plays in a game that turned into a shootout is a missing piece that Hilinski could solve if all the chips fall his way.
On the other hand, it’s not been that long since Hill won the preseason quarterback competition, and he largely wasn’t the problem in losses to Tennessee and Florida. This is something only the coaching staff could answer, but how well do Hilinski and Doty understand the playbook compared to Hill?
“I think Collin will tell you he needs to play better than he did. He did create explosive plays down the field,” Muschamp said. “He directs our offense extremely well, gets us in and out of the run game. A lot of the run game we have are run checks he’s making at the line of scrimmage, which are the correct checks.”
Down the stretch, South Carolina will likely be favored in just 2 games, and only among the trio of Ole Miss, Missouri and Kentucky. ESPN’s FPI pegs the Gamecocks with a 50.9% chance to beat Ole Miss on Nov. 14, and Missouri the following week at 60.5%.
Lest we forget, South Carolina needs more offensive production beyond Kevin Harris and Shi Smith. TE Keveon Mullins flashed with 2 catches for 101 yards. However, a third dependable weapon has not yet emerged at running back, tight end or wide receiver. If that happens, quarterback production instantly becomes easier.
“Mike (Bobo) said it best: you have to finish drives. We didn’t finish drives. We missed 3 field goals; we turned the ball over on downs on the 9th drive of the game,” Muschamp said. “We have to finish some drives. … We did last week against Auburn and had a totally different result.”
In a recurring theme that many Gamecocks fans would recognize, Muschamp struck an optimistic tone immediately after the game about the next game, while he admitted they missed an opportunity at LSU.
“Sure, absolutely, I don’t think there is any question about that, but any opportunity you have in a 10-game schedule is a big opportunity,” he said. “Got another opportunity when Texas A&M comes to Williams-Brice in 2 weeks.”