South Carolina coach Shawn Elliott didn’t waste much time answering the question.
The Gamecocks’ opening-game starter, Connor Mitch, hasn’t seen the field since September against Kentucky. A separated shoulder and nasty hip injury put him in the hospital, and even after returning to practice, there’s been little indication if he’ll make it back into a game before season’s end.
Will he contribute? Elliott said he certainly expects Mitch will.
“I don’t know where it might be,” Elliott said. “Any time you sit out for that length of time, first of all, physically, strength-wise, conditioning wise, it takes a toll on you. You actually do nothing until that injury heals.
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“Connor’s a fine, fine player and a good quarterback, and he’s going to be able to lead this football team. I’m not sure when it might happen, but he’ll be ready.”
Mitch was not made available to speak with reporters.
Offensive coordinator G.A. Mangus said Mitch practiced well Wednesday and looked better this week than in the previous few. He also hopes Mitch will contribute, but pointed out, the pair of injuries put him in a rough spot.
“It’s a bad break, and at the same time too, it’s a little bit of a scary deal when all of a sudden, you think it’s just a hip pointer and you end up leaving the game because you’ve got some internal bleeding,” Mangus said. “That’s never good, I don’t care who you are, what you did.”
The coach pointed out Mitch lost weight and had to work his way back on several fronts. Still, he could find himself a few plays away from the spot he held to start the season.
Mitch had an uneven opener against North Carolina and had 165 passing yards, one touchdown on 29 passes with a completion percentage of 44.8. He was a four-star prospect with Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee offers out of Wakefield High School in Raleigh, N.C.
He emerged from a drawn out position battle during the summer. Since his injury, the Gamecocks have used both ex-walk-on Perry Orth and athletic, four-star freshman Lorenzo Nunez, with Orth settling into the starting role in recent weeks.
Teammates said after returning from injury, Mitch is again a presence in the quarterback room.
“Connor has been awesome,” Orth said. “He prepares just like he was playing before. He’s been there on the sideline cheering me on, and if his number is called, he’ll be ready to go. He’s been good.”
Orth knows a thing or two about Mitch’s experience of finding himself in a backup role after once being the starter. Orth started against Georgia before giving way to Nunez for a couple games. Nunez hurt his shoulder against Missouri and Orth returned to the post.
Orth said someone going through that is put in a bit of conflict. It’s the only spot on the field where reps cannot be split, so the change from running the show to manning the sideline is quick. But a benched passer can’t stew, feel bitter, even as the question of if and how he can contribute still hangs in the air.
“I wouldn’t say bitter,” Orth said. “It is tough because you want to be out there helping your team win. But it just comes with, you’ve just got to understand where you’re at. You’ve just got to help the team, whatever your role may be. Whether it is backing up or starting, giving pointers on the sideline. You’ve just got to understand that whatever helps the team is what you’ve got to do.”