Forget the future.
It’s time for South Carolina to give the starting quarterback job back to Perry Orth and live for the now.
Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp wasn’t ready to make that call Saturday night after a 24-13 loss to Texas A&M, but you’ll never get an SEC head coach to make a decision on much of anything in the immediate aftermath of a game.
“Probably think that through” was all Muschamp was allow.
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Orth, a senior, replaced freshman starter Brandon McIlwain in the fourth quarter Saturday night and led the Gamecocks to 151 yards on three series and within sight of the lead into the final two minutes of the game.
“Just like I have my whole career, always getting ready to play no matter what,” said Orth, who was 11-of-18 passing for 138 yards.
Orth spent the first three quarters of the game in a baseball cap and headset but was ready when the coaching staff decided to make a change. He’s used to an on-again, off-again relationship with the starting lineup. After arriving at the school as a walk-on, he started eight games last year and the first two this year before being replaced by McIlwain, a four-star recruit from Pennsylvania.
As for the immediate future, he’ll continue his take-it-as-it-comes approach.
“Whatever (offensive coordinator Kurt) Roper and Coach Muschamp decide is what we’re going to do,” he said.
What they should decide is to play Orth. The Gamecocks originally went with McIlwain three weeks ago against East Carolina to give their struggling team a little hope, but there wasn’t much hopeful about the offense for three quarters against Texas A&M.
McIlwain was 9-of-15 passing for 34 yards and had 7 rushing yards when he was replaced. Punter Sean Kelly had more passing yards (36) than McIlwain on the night.
McIlwain “did some good things. We just felt like we needed to get the ball more vertical down the field,” Muschamp said. “We had been struggling to do that. That’s why we made the change. Not disappointed in Brandon at all. Just felt like we needed to get the ball more down the field a little bit. It’s very difficult in the throwing game right now.”
It looks more difficult when McIlwain is in the game. He is 40-of-78 passing for 372 yards against SEC opponents this year. The passing game that is available to South Carolina is the same with McIlwain in the game as it is with Orth, Muschamp said after the game.
Several of the passing “concepts” that were called with Orth in the fourth quarter were called with McIlwain in the first three quarters, Muschamp said. They just looked better with Orth in the game.
“It has nothing to do with who is at quarterback for our (game plan in the) throwing game,” Muschamp said.
McIlwain absolutely gives South Carolina things that Orth does not.
“There are things that for the naked eye people don’t notice that he creates because of his legs in the run game, like on the back side of the first play, you see the back side linebacker and the back side defensive end (stay on their side) because of him,” Muschamp said in reference to A.J. Turner’s 75-yard touchdown run.
McIlwain just doesn’t bring enough of them at this point in his career to overcome his inexperience. Texas A&M has a big boy defense but so does Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri, Florida and Clemson, all of who loom on the Gamecocks upcoming schedule. It’s not an indictment of McIlwain to think he’s not ready for that gauntlet.
“Brandon was not playing bad,” Muschamp insisted.
South Carolina’s head coach is going to be very, very careful about his young quarterback’s confidence, but there’s every reason to believe McIlwain can handle a setback. He’s mature beyond his years says everyone who’s spent any time with him and he grew up playing baseball, where shaking off failure is a necessity for survival.
McIlwain is going to be better than fine down the road. He’s remains the Gamecocks quarterback of the future, and he’s going to be a very good one. He’s just not the quarterback of the present. Perry Orth is.