The nature of playing true freshman quarterbacks is that they usually don’t know all that much.
They haven’t spent multiple years in college meeting rooms, digesting offense and schemes, working with college coaches, reading those defenses or practicing the concepts they’ll need. In football, execution usually trumps scheme, so a staff will usually focus a young passer’s energies toward a smaller range of things.
South Carolina played two true freshmen the entirety of Saturday’s win against UMass. They’re deep into this conundrum, so how do the Gamecocks approach that?
“You have to evaluate, what do they do well?” Will Muschamp said. “That’s always our evaluation. What do they do well? ... sometimes we look at our numbers. What are our completion percentages in the dropback game? In our (run-pass option) game? In our run game situations. What are we doing best at?”
Against the Minutemen, Jake Bentley saw his first college action, starting less than six months from when he arrived on campus. He was spelled by Brandon McIlwain, who enrolled early and started three games with up-and-down success through the air.
The Gamecocks haven’t put their young passers in too many true dropback situations, often moving the pocket, using screens and attaching simple reads to plays that can be runs or passes.
Muschamp said his young players also talk with offensive coordinator Kurt Roper about what they’re comfortable with, and earlier in the week, Roper said on radio this season has made it a little harder to build comforts around them. He pointed out USC has seen its two best pass catchers miss time, and the offensive line has seen its share of attrition and shuffling.
Still, the staff now has a half season worth of in-game information to work with, plus whatever they can take from charting months of practice. So instead of looking at young quarterbacks and deciding what needs to be the focus, they use the data they have as a guide.
“We’re constantly evaluating those things, and the numbers usually don’t lie as far as what we’re doing well,” Muschamp said. “A lot of times, it narrows down for us the things that the players feel comfortable with.”