South Carolina relied on dual-threat quarterback Brandon McIlwain to start Saturday’s game against No. 9 Texas A&M, which resulted in a 24-13 loss. The meager offensive performance means the Gamecocks have a position battle raging under center.
McIlwain, a true freshman from Pennsylvania who has shown poise at times but is still learning the craft of quarterbacking, received the starting nod in week three for South Carolina’s home opener against East Carolina. Since that time, McIlwain has accumulated 135 passing yards per game on a 54-percent completion rate without a touchdown. McIlwain isn’t making big mistakes, but he’s not producing at a high level.
Perry Orth is a redshirt senior who is a better passer than McIlwain. Orth started South Carolina’s first two games this year and is much more comfortable airing out the football.
In the fourth quarter of the Gamecocks’ loss last Saturday, coach Will Muschamp subbed in Orth to take over for a struggling McIlwain, and it didn’t take long for Orth to reinvigorate the offense. In just four plays, Orth racked up more passing yards than the freshman up to that point. Orth finished the game 11-for-18 and with 138 yards in his only quarter of work.
“Sometimes all the offense needs is a little spark,” Orth said after the game. “That’s kind of my thing, throwing the ball downfield. They gave me a chance to do that.”
Despite being removed from his starting position heading into week three, Orth contends that he still prepares to take the field at any moment.
“Just like I have my whole career, always getting ready to play no matter what,” Orth said. “They called my number and I worked my butt off during the week to get ready to play, and I always cherish the opportunity to do that.”
During week five, McIlwain went 9-for-15 for 33 yards and one interception. While Orth was sent in to replace McIlwain late in the Gamecocks’ loss, Muschamp deflected the notion that the change was made because of McIlwain’s performance.
“Brandon did some good things in the game,” Muschamp said.
“There are some things people don’t notice with the naked eye that he creates in the run game… there’s things that he creates, and he did some good things. We just felt like we needed to get the ball more vertical down the field. we were struggling to do that at the time and that’s why we made the change.”
Tight end Hayden Hurst, who led the Gamecocks in receiving yards and tied for the team led in receptions, provided his analysis on the difference between South Carolina’s two quarterbacks without naming a favorite in the race.
“They both bring awesome things to the table,” Hurst said. “Brandon is young, but he’s learning. He’s doing a heck of a job for an 18 year old. I don’t know if I could’ve done those things as an 19 year old, to be that mature. Perry is kind of a seasoned veteran. He’s been around, he’s played SEC games, but they both bring tremendous things to the table.”
According to the Charleston Post and Courier’s David Caraviello, South Carolina will play both Orth and McIlwain during its week six contest with SEC East foe Georgia.
Will Muschamp says quarterbacks Perry Orth and Brandon McIlwain will both play this weekend against Georgia.
— David Caraviello (@dcaraviello) October 2, 2016
Regardless of which quarterback takes the majority of snaps on Saturday, Muschamp is confident enough in the playbook that he will not alter the calls based on which player is under center.
“We carry the same package regardless of who is in the game,” Muschamp said. “Right now we have a lot of guys on the perimeter learning everything for the first time, so it has nothing to do with who’s at quarterback based on our throwing game.”
Both Orth and McIlwain will be aided by the probable return of wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards, while Randrecous Davis will remain sidelined with an injury for the Georgia game.