South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst didn’t expect to spend much of the second half against Tennessee staying in to pass block.
He was and still is South Carolina’s leading receiver, and when the Gamecocks started losing wide receivers to injury, there were spots where he shouldered almost the entire pass-catching load. But against the Vols, he traded running routes for battling pass-rushers.
And it wasn’t part of the plan.
“That really was just more of an in-game development,” Hurst said. “I guess I did some good things on (Derek) Barnett and coach Roper liked what he saw and went with it.”
Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said the change was rooted in how often and how heavily the Volunteers were pressuring quarterback Jake Bentley, who was sacked six times on the night.
Hurst allowed more six- and seven-man protections, which helped with respected Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop dialing up an array of new pressure looks.
“That wasn’t something we practiced a whole lot for the simple reason that we hadn’t seen some of the stuff we were seeing,” Muschamp said of the wider blocking fronts. “So we had to change in the game and make some adjustments and he did a fantastic job in the game for doing some of the things we asked him to do.”
That he performed well on that front was a sign of significant progress because last year, his blocking was part of the reason he didn’t play tight end. At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, the 23-year-old former minor league baseball player was at wide receiver.
His progress this year has been solid, and he’s now in an offense that asks a lot from its tight ends in terms of movement and keying the running game.
He’s admitted its something he wasn’t 100 percent comfortable with, something he had to grow into.
“We are asking him to do things he has never done before,” Muschamp said. “As far as angles, as far as protections, as far as run blocks, as far as tracking the mike (linebacker)... there are so many things that are so foreign to him.”
That’s why Hurst said he loved being told he’d stay in and block. It showed his coaches had confidence in his ability to do it.
That said, he’s caught two passes in the past two games, after getting five or more in five of the first seven. Muschamp said he needs the ball more, and a pair of plays drawn up to go to him didn’t work out.
His lone catch against the Vols did convert a crucial third down late.
Hurst isn’t worried about the numbers. That’s not the sort of player he is. The offense has changed with Bentley behind center, but Hurst expects things will balance out once something develops.
“A little bit of the timing, I think,” Hurst said. “The more comfortable Jake gets with the offense, the more he’ll kind of go through his reads. I just go out there and do what I’m told to do.”