What Saban said about facing Hilinski, Gamecocks
Count Nick Saban as the latest college football voice impressed with Ryan Hilinski.
The Alabama coach — and leader of five Crimson Tide national titles — said Monday that South Carolina hardly looked out of sync last week when it debuted a new quarterback in place of the injured Jake Bentley.
Hilinski completed 80 percent of his passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns as the Gamecocks rolled Charleston Southern, 72-10. The freshman also ran for a score.
In its Alabama tune-up game, USC set a school record with 775 yards of offense.
“(Hilinski) played great,” Saban said at his weekly news conference in Tuscaloosa. “I mean, the guy was like (24) of 30 or whatever. And he had a lot of yards. He certainly didn’t look like a freshman quarterback out there. He’s a good athlete, he’s got a good arm. He was very accurate. He made good decisions. He got rid of the ball, he got the ball out of his hand quickly. And he executed the offense extremely well.
“No disrespect because we think Bentley is a really good quarterback and certainly an experienced guy, but they didn’t miss a beat in this game in terms of the quarterback position.”
The Gamecocks (1-1) host the No. 2 Tide (2-0) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. This was supposed to be Bentley’s first — and likely only — crack at a program that recruited him out of Opelika High School in the Yellowhammer State. Instead, the senior suffered a mid-foot injury in the 2019 opening loss to North Carolina that requires season-ending surgery.
Hilinski, a four-star prospect out of California, stepped in and torched the Buccaneers of the lower-tier Football Championship Subdivision. His performance has been recognized by everyone from ESPN’s Matt Barrie to Darius Rucker to Saban.
“I thought the freshman quarterback played flawlessly last week for the first game he played in,” Saban said.
Alabama enters Saturday 16th nationally in total defense. The Tide’s allowed 13 points in two games.
“Will Muschamp has done an outstanding job of building a very, very good program at South Carolina,” Saban said. “They had a successful season a year ago. They’re a very well-coached team in every phase of the game. Their guys play hard, they sort of reflect the personality of their coach.
“This is a good football team. They have a lot of veteran players coming back. I think 15 starters and both their specialists — kicker and punter. ... They got a really good offensive line, they got some really good skill players, a couple good wide receivers.”
High praise for USC specialists
Saban will look to run his record to 17-0 when facing a former member of his coaching staff. Muschamp worked for Saban at LSU and the Miami Dolphins.
Hilinksi aside, Saban seems most concerned with Muschamp’s special teams this week. The Gamecocks are top five in the SEC in average kickoff and punt return yards. Parker White made three of his four field goal attempts. Two of Joseph Charlton’s punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line.
“This is by far the best special teams group that we’ve played,” Saban said, “certainly this year, but really ranks right up there with anybody that we’ve ever played against.”
Saturday will mark Alabama’s first game against USC since the Gamecocks upset the No. 1 Crimson Tide in 2010.
Asked if that loss will provide any motivation for his current team, Saban responded appropriately.
“What year are we in now, 2019?” Saban said. “So most of our guys were in grade school when that happened. But what I remember from it is we got the lining kicked out of our britches. I don’t know if you know what that means, but that means you got your butt kicked so hard you got no seam in the back of your pants.
“Yeah, I remember that. But I’ll ask the players today if when they were in sixth grade, if they remember it. But, we’ll see. But if they don’t remember it, I don’t know how it motivates them. I know this a tough place to play and we got a ton of respect for the team that we’re playing and I think that the players on our team need to have the proper respect in terms of what they need to do to prepare to play a good team like this.”