Josh Kendall

Ryan Hilinski will be South Carolina’s backup quarterback. Here’s why

South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp did not name a backup quarterback after the Gamecocks’ spring game on Saturday. He (and offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon) did that during the game, even if it wasn’t their intention.

Spring game statistics are worse than meaningless. They are often liars, but here are the numbers from South Carolina’s freshman quarterbacks anyway: 24-of-36 passing for 206 yards for early enrollee freshman Ryan Hilinski, and 10-of-23 passing for one touchdown and one interception for redshirt freshman Dakereon Joyner.

What mattered in the 28-16 victory for the Garnet team in Williams-Brice Stadium was how those statistics were compiled in the first half. With Hilinski in, the Gamecocks’ offense looked like it will look with starter Jake Bentley at the helm this fall. South Carolina didn’t call a run play until Hilinski’s 20th snap of the spring game. The offense moved quickly, if not always effectively, alternating screens and slants with the occasional deep ball.

On Joyner’s first 20 snaps, the Gamecocks threw the ball eight times. A very effective offense could be built around Joyner’s generous talents. He clearly is a dynamic threat with the ball in his hands. He rushed for 60 yards Saturday. He threw a beautiful pass for a 25-yard gain to Kiel Pollard on fourth-and-10. He led the first touchdown drive of the game.

But the Gamecocks already have built a different kind of offense under McClendon, who is entering his second year as offensive coordinator, and it looks like the one Hilinski was running Saturday afternoon.

“Dakereon, to really see him grow from last year until now, he’s doing real well. He’s throwing the ball well,” senior running back A.J. Turner said. “Ryan, I feel like he’s more of a stay-in-the-pocket passer, but he definitely drops dimes.”

The nation’s No. 2 pro-style high school quarterback last year coming out of Orange, California, Hilinski completed eight of his first nine passes. He was far from perfect, panicking the first time he saw a free rusher and floating several passes, but those things can be fixed with time and experience.

Hilinski clearly looked like the player South Carolina coaches have the most faith in running their offense.

The Gamecocks will not name a backup until the fall, Muschamp said.

“I thought both guys managed our offense well (Saturday),” Muschamp said. “Both showed some really good things. To me it was all about the evaluation of those guys. That’s critical for us moving forward.”

The end of the backup quarterback debate for 2019 season does not necessarily mean the end of the quarterback competition between Hilinski and Joyner. There’s a scenario where Hilinski is chosen to back up Bentley with the current offensive system, and the coaches decide that Joyner’s talents are worthy of considering an offensive playbook shakeup for the 2020 season.

On Saturday, though, the most intriguing question of South Carolina’s 2019 spring practice session seemed to be answered.

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Josh Kendall has covered SEC football for almost 20 years. He has covered the Gamecocks since the 2010 season. Have a question? Shoot him an email or find him on Twitter, and he’ll be happy to respond.