Smart’s friend Will Muschamp will bring a true freshman into Athens this Saturday in South Carolina starter Ryan Hilinski. And the Bulldogs coach is impressed.
“This young man is talented,” Smart said. “This young man has the talent and the arm strength. He can make all the throws. To see him go in the games he went in, just look at the Alabama tape, he went against one of the elite defenses in the country and spun the ball as good as anybody. He’s got a great release, he’s got intuition on throws, instinctive. He’s going to be a really good player in this league for a long time.
“He just does not play like a freshman.”
UGA was recruiting Hilinski at one point before the California four-star picked the Gamecocks.
For the season, Hilinski has been up and down. He showed well against No. 1 Alabama, had a rough first road start against Missouri and was solid against Kentucky. Hilinski is in the lineup because senior Jake Bentley suffered a season-ending foot injury.
“Hilinski has a really quick release,” Smart said. “The ability to get it out. Great velocity on his ball. He’s athletic and mobile enough to move in the pocket and get around and do some things.
“Hilinski’s done a great job of whipping the ball, quick game stuff, vertical down the field, he’s got a really good group of wideouts and they do a great job of putting him in successful situations and he’s made that transition really smooth.”
Smart had a few other thoughts about some of the Gamecocks:
On managing a young quarterback such as Hilinski:
“It’s a trend you’re going to see because No. 1, they’re getting hit more. So there’s a chance of injury. They’re running more, so greater chance of injury. So you’re seeing backups who happen to be true freshmen because quarterbacks don’t usually stay the long haul. ... You’re also seeing more talented freshmen arrive.”
On Gamecocks running backs coach Thomas Brown, who played for Smart in 2005:
“He was probably the hardest working, quietest guy. Came to work every day. Extremely explosive, physical for his size. He’s just a great leader, great person. He continues to be that way as a coach.”
On his relationship with Will Muschamp:
“There was not a close relationship when he was here, he was a fifth year senior and I was a freshman. Where we got closer was the opportunity he gave me to come to Valdosta State. He’s a good friend and I have a lot of respect for him.”
On USC overall:
“It’s on to South Carolina, who I’ve been very impressed with. I think they’re playing a lot better. They’ve gotten better throughout the year, you can tell from Game 1 to Game 2. They’re healthier, number one. They’ve got a lot of guys playing at a high level. I’ve got a lot of respect for the way Will runs the program. I think they’re doing a really good job. Both coordinators really get after you. They put pressure on you in three phases -- offense, defense, and special teams. They do a great job up front. Defensively, they’ve got a lot of big guys and a lot more big bodies than they’ve had in the past, and they’re healthy.
“Offensively, they’ve got one of the best wide receivers that I’ve seen on tape in Bryan Edwards. He does a very good job. (Ryan) Hilinski is a very talented quarterback. We recruited him hard here. He’s got extreme arm talent. He can make all the throws. And they’re doing a lot of things that are tough to defend offensively, and they put pressure on you from a special teams standpoint.”