Splitting quarterback duties, South Carolina fans know that drill.
It turns out, new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper does as well.
His last year with Duke saw starter Anthony Boone miss a few games early with a fractured collarbone, giving way to Brandon Connette. Even after Boone returned, Connette stayed involved as part of a goal line package, scoring eight rushing touchdowns in the final eight games.
Roper had a specific reason for keeping his second passer involved.
“My philosophy on that is I don’t want to put a quarterback in there that’s not capable of throwing the football,” Roper said. “So for lack of a better phrase, the Wildcat package, I’m not a big fan of it when it’s a running back and they can’t physically throw the football. That was the world of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones when it all started.”
He pointed out the staff had developed a No. 2 who’d shown in practice and in meetings he was capable of earning playing time.
Now, Roper is at the program that brought the world the Smelley-Garcia platoon and had no fewer than five players take snaps last season.
After opening-day starter Connor Mitch went down after 1 1/2 inconsistent games, the job bounced between former sixth-stringer and walk-on Perry Orth and athletic true freshman Lorenzo Nunez. It eventually settled into Orth starting and Nunez coming in as a run-first changeup, with wide receiver Pharoh Cooper taking some Wildcat snaps.
Heading into the 2016 season, the quarterback situation isn’t any clearer.
Orth is back, but despite showing more mobility than one might expect (231 non-sack rushing yards), his ceiling might not be that high. Nunez averaged 7.8 yards a carry, discounting sacks, but was injury prone and struggled through the air.
Mitch and Michael Scarnecchia are still around, and while the expectations are high for true freshman Brandon McIlwain, there aren’t that many true freshmen ready for full-time SEC starting duty. (He also played in a run-heavy offense in high school.)
As of the last time assistant coaches spoke publicly, Roper hadn’t yet worked closely with players (recruiting being at the forefront), so any shaping of roles is a long way off. But if one of his passers shows the right skill set, he could break out a slightly more controlled split-quarterback system.
“So if we’ve got a guy that’s earned some, obviously, opportunities to do that, and he has that skill set, I think what it does is take some contact off of your starter in some situations,” Roper said. “Really it develops from some short-yardage, low red zone-type thing and grows from there with what the guy is capable of doing.”