Josh Kendall

Who’s behind door No. 1? USC among teams still rotating QBs

Will Muschamp explains QB rotation logic, plans for future games

South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp discusses how the QB rotation played out vs. Vanderbilt with senior Perry Orth and freshman Brandon McIlwain.
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South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp discusses how the QB rotation played out vs. Vanderbilt with senior Perry Orth and freshman Brandon McIlwain.

There are 128 teams playing in the Football Bowl Subdivision this year. So a little quick math tells us that 382 quarterbacks played on the opening weekend of college football.

That’s an exaggeration of course, but it sure seems like nobody wants to pick a starting quarterback this season. South Carolina still is deciding how to deploy senior Perry Orth and freshman Brandon McIlwain, which feels familiar to South Carolina fans who are coming off a 10-year run with Steve Spurrier as head coach.

Spurrier used to be college football’s renegade, rolling quarterbacks into and out of the lineup at his whim. Now Spurrier’s out of the game and suddenly everybody is doing their best impersonation of him.

Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame and Texas all used two (or more if you’re Auburn) quarterbacks on the opening weekend of the season. So why can’t anybody pick a starting quarterback anymore?

“I can’t comment for anybody but us, but it’s a close competition,” Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said. “It’s a tough call to make, and I feel like we could have success with all three guys.”

South Carolina started Orth in a 13-10 win over Vanderbilt and used McIlwain for four series in the first half. The Gamecocks plan to play both quarterbacks again Saturday against Mississippi State, and it’s beginning to feel like a two-quarterback system will be in place for the rest of the season. Muschamp says three because he still won’t publicly eliminate freshman Jake Bentley from the competition. It seems no one wants to pick a guy and go with him these days.

At Texas, it makes sense. Let Shane Buechele do most of the heavy lifting and then bring in the 250-pound Tyrone Swoopes in short-yardage and goal line situations to run over people like a baby bull.

At other places, it just feels like no one wants to hurt the backup’s feelings. Take Auburn for instance. The Tigers rotated three quarterbacks – Sean White, John Franklin III and Jeremy Johnson – throughout a 19-13 loss to Clemson. It was painful to watch.

“If I’m a qb, I don’t even consider Auburn. This is vexing to say the least,” Stephen Garcia tweeted during the game.

Garcia, you’ll no doubt remember, played for Spurrier, which seemingly would make his tolerance high for quarterback juggling. Another former Gamecock and Spurrier signal-caller Dylan Thompson still was thinking about the Auburn debacle Monday night as he watched Florida State play freshman quarterback Deondre Francois throughout the game on the way to a 45-34 victory over Ole Miss.

“Auburn woulda been on QB #3 for his 7th appearance at this point,” Thompson tweeted. “Kudos to FSU for letting 12 play and grow!”

Auburn finished that game with 87 rushing yards and 175 passing yards.

“Obviously, it wasn’t successful like I thought it would be,” coach Gus Malzahn said afterward.

At least he’s admitting his mistake. At Vanderbilt, Derek Mason still plans on playing backup quarterback Wade Freebeck as a “situational player” even after his insertion of Freebeck into the South Carolina game completely derailed whatever offensive momentum the Commodores might have had. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly won’t commit fully to DeShone Kizer over Malik Zaire despite Kizer outplaying Zaire against Texas and looking like he’s going to challenge Clemson’s Deshaun Watson for the top spot in next year’s NFL Draft.

Orth completed 11-of-19 passes for 152 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions and had a passer rating of 125 against Vanderbilt. McIlwain was 5-of-11 for 35 yards and a passer rating of 72 against the Commodores. On the plus side, he added 29 rushing yards, the second-highest total on the team. On the other hand, he fumbled once and dropped another ball that was reviewed and ruled not a fumble.

“Perry obviously deserves the opportunity to start the way he played the other night,” Muschamp said. “Brandon got in the game, he played well. And we moved the ball when he was in the ballgame. We’ve got to take care of the ball and he understands that. Both of those guys will help us succeed.”

McIlwain deserves a chance to prove he has improved his ball security and can provide the Gamecocks with an option they don’t have in Orth because of his running ability. If that doesn’t happen soon, it will be time for South Carolina to stick on one quarterback.

Unlike everybody else seems to be doing.

Two better than one?

A look at some of the other SEC schools using two QBs:

Georgia

Greyson Lambert

5-8, 54 yds

Jacob Eason

8-12, 131 yds

Vanderbilt

Kyle Shurmur

8-22, 73 yds

Wade Freebeck

0-1, 0 yds

Auburn

Sean

White

10-21, 140 yds

Jeremy Johnson

4-6, 38 yds

Mississippi St.

Damian Williams

20-28, 143 yds

Nick Fitzgerald

0-3, 0 yds

Alabama

Jalen Hurts

6-11, 118 yds

Blake Barnett

5-6, 100 yds

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