For most of South Carolina’s bowl preparations, Bailey Hart has been asked to replicate South Florida quarterback Quinton Flowers for the Gamecocks scout team.
South Carolina safety D.J. Smith was asked this week how well Hart, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound freshman walk-on from Mount Pleasant, has played the role. The face Smith made drew laughter from the surrounding media corps.
“Nah, he’s straight,” Smith said. “He’s not as fast obviously. You are obviously not going to get the real game-type look from him because he is not the same quarterback.”
The Gamecocks could pluck anybody they wanted off their roster – and they’ve used backup quarterback Brandon McIlwain against the first-team defense at times – and still not get a good feel for Flowers. South Carolina (6-6) finally will see the real thing Thursday at 2 p.m. at Legion Field in the Birmingham Bowl when they face the Bulls (10-2) and Flowers.
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“We would have a hard time tackling him in a phone booth,” Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said. “He’s really good.”
Flowers is South Florida’s leading passer (2,551 yards, 22 touchdowns, 63.1 percent completion percentage) and rusher (1,425 yards, 15 touchdowns). His 331.3 yards per game rank 10th in the nation.
Duplicating that during a practice is impossible for most scout team players and even hard for McIlwain, who plays a similar style as Flowers and has directed South Carolina’s No. 2 offense against the starting defense at times during bowl practices.
“It definitely helps us as a team to have somebody at quarterback (in practice) who can move around and kind of give us a similar look to what (Flowers) is going to give us,” South Carolina linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said. “We are not going to have anybody who can match what he does because he is a dynamic player, but to have somebody who can give a similar look is important.”
Allen-Williams thinks it will take South Carolina a series or two Thursday to adjust from Practice Flowers to Real Flowers.
“When you play against quarterbacks like that, you definitely have to feel them out,” he said. “You have to see his true game speed. A lot of people look different on film and when you play against them, they play a lot faster.”
Muschamp, who recruited Flowers when Muschamp was the head coach at Florida and Flowers was a high school star in Miami, doesn’t expect his team to shut down Flowers completely.
“I don’t know that you’re going to contain him,” Muschamp said. “He’s going to hit some runs. That’s what good players do. You have to keep relative contain, meaning you have to keep the ball fenced. You have to keep him inside. You can’t stop your feet on contact. You have to run your feet on contact.”
The Bulls passing game, which features a lot of deep throws, is keyed off their success in the run game, and their success in the run game relies on Flowers. The combination has added up to 515 yards per game this year for South Florida, which has the nation’s ninth-most prolific offense.
“They’ve got all the outlets off the run game,” Muschamp said. “So if you load the box, they’re able to get the ball on the perimeter. They’re a fast team. They’ve got really good speed. They create a lot of space plays. They create a lot of one-on-one situations where you’ve got to tackle very good skill guys in space.”
The Gamecocks have to focus first on stopping Flowers’ running ability and take their chances against his throwing ability, Smith said.
“As far as speed and running ability I would probably say (Flowers is similar to) Deshaun Watson,” Allen-Williams said. “As far as ability to move out of the pocket and throw the ball down field and run the football if you give him too many open lanes. Just give him a couple of different looks, not rushing too far up the field and a few other things to get the ball out of his hands.”
Who: South Carolina (6-6) vs. South Florida (10-2)
When: 2 p.m. Thursday
Where: Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.
Line: USF by 10