Josh Kendall

Gamecocks determined to support freshman quarterback

Brandon McIlwain’s getting ready for a football game this weekend, but it may be his baseball background that helps the most, one teammate believes.

“In baseball, you strike out once, you can’t go up for the next at-bat thinking about a strikeout,” South Carolina linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said. “I definitely think he’s going to move on. He’s going to improve this week.”

McIlwain whiffed his last time out, a 17-10 loss to Kentucky in which the true freshman quarterback struggled and the Gamecocks offense looked lost. Now, his veteran teammates are rallying around him as South Carolina gets ready for its toughest foe yet, No. 9 Texas A&M in Williams-Brice Stadium at 4 p.m. Saturday.

“We are all talking to him,” Allen-Williams said. “It wasn’t so long ago I was a freshman making mistakes. As a freshman playing in the SEC, you need somebody that has been there to talk to you and let you know that everything is going to be all right. I talk to Brandon all the time and let him know it’s going to be OK, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.”

McIlwain, a true freshman who was a four-star prospect out of Pennsylvania, was 15 of 30 for 177 yards passing and rushed 13 times for 11 yards against the Wildcats. For the season, he’s completing 51.6 percent of his passes for 533 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions and has rushed 40 times for 91 yards.

“He’s a freshman,” senior defensive end Darius English said. “He’s doing the best he can so we’re all behind him.”

Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp doesn’t allow McIlwain to speak to the media because he’s a true freshman, but McIlwain’s teammates said he has bounced back this week in practice.

“He’s always positive,” wide receiver Terry Googer said. “He’s very settled even when the coaches are getting on him. He always keeps his head high, says, ‘Yes sir, no sir.’ He picks his head up. We don’t really need to pick him up. He’s doing very well. He’s a very mature player. We see the upside in him.”

McIlwain’s teammates, particularly senior quarterback Perry Orth, who was replaced by McIlwain, have been “very supportive,” Muschamp said.

“It’s hard, and there’s a lot on his plate. He’s handling things well,” Muschamp said. “There’s a lot of firsts happening and that’s part of the growing process as a player, especially at that position.”

Offensive lineman Zack Bailey admitted that dealing with the growing pains associated with a true freshman quarterback “has its challenges sometimes,” but added McIlwain has won over his offensive line with his attitude.

“When he gets back up to the line, he’s ready to go again,” Bailey said. “He doesn’t get down at all. We have to remember he’s still young, he’s still developing.”

Tight end Hayden Hurst believes his most supportive role comes on the field, where he can be a security blanket for McIwain. Hurst is the Gamecocks leading receiver with 19 catches for 212 yards.

“He’s young but he does a (heck) of a job,” Hurst said. “I try to be that older voice of reason and try to do the fundamental things for him and get open and be his check down guy and be reliable for him. Things are happening fast. Trying to be reliable for him in those check-down routes is big I think.”

Despite the offense’s struggles, the Gamecocks remain upbeat about their quarterback, running back A.J. Turner said.

“I think everybody’s head is up,” Turner said. “We have to work hard and everything will take care of itself.”

Game info

Who: Texas A&M (4-0) at South Carolina (2-2)

When: 4 p.m. Saturday

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium

TV: SEC Network

Line: Texas A&M by 18