South Carolina offensive coordinator Kurt Roper talked about the Gamecocks quarterback situation on Thursday, which is not to say he shed any light on it.
“The company line right now is we have a good plan for Saturday,” Roper said with a laugh. “I like my job.”
“They keep stuff top secret man,” defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson joked.
Roper and Robinson haven’t spoken to the media since the season began, but the coordinators sat in for head coach Will Muschamp on Thursday night’s “Carolina Calls” radio show on 107.5-FM. Muschamp was on the road recruiting, host Todd Ellis said.
The Gamecocks are expected to start true freshman quarterback Jake Bentley, who appeared to be headed for a redshirt season until the team struggled mightily offensively through the first six games of the season.
“Those guys work hard,” Roper said of his quarterbacks. “They all buy into what we are trying to teach. They all try to get better every day. They are a group that prepares outside the meetings we have.”
Ideally, a young quarterback would be able to sit and watch for a year or two, said Roper, who pointed to former Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning, who Roper coached. Manning redshirted as a freshman and then played one year as a backup before taking over the starting job for three years.
“There is nothing like being able to grow without having the responsibility early, but not all situations are that way,” Roper said. “Game reps are a much better teachers than any reps we can give them, but sometimes it’s a tough lesson to learn.”
South Carolina’s No. 1 quarterback usually gets two-thirds of the snaps during practice, Roper said.
The Gamecocks have given senior Perry Orth and true freshman Brandon McIlwain three starts each at quarterback this season. McIlwain is completing around 40 percent of his passes from the pocket this season, Ellis said on the show.
“Any time that you ask a true freshman to manage the drop back game the first thing that you teach is the protection and understanding that,” Roper said. “That is not an easy thing to understand. It’s hard for a true freshman in the drop back game so you try to do it with a moving pocket. At some point in the game, you are going to have to ask them to throw from the pocket. Obviously, we need to be more productive, but I don’t sit here and beat Brandon up for his production because he’s having to play so early in his career.”
The Gamecocks are last in the SEC in scoring (14 ppg) and next-to-last in yards (304.5 per game) this year, but Roper believes his group is making progress.
“To be a good offense, you need consist and that’s all encompassing,” Roper said. “I’m talking about consistency in who is doing what we are asking them to do and in what we are doing. One thing is I do feel we have an identity. We are a team that is going to play in space, we’re going to run the inside zone, we’re going to try to be a physical team between the tackles, the bubble screens and things like that are our perimeter runs. We have been a little healthier and we are now six weeks into the season of doing the same things over and over. I think you see a team that continues to improve.”
Roper pointed to wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards and tight end Hayden Hurst as players the offense can build around.
“I think we have some really good football players on the perimeter for us,” he said. “We have three guys who could play anywhere they wanted to play and potentially make money playing this game in Deebo, Bryan and Hayden. You try to go in and figure out the best way to get the football to those guys.”