South Carolina will start its third quarterback in four games Saturday. This time it’s true freshman Lorenzo Nunez, who the Gamecocks hope will provide a spark after two consecutive defeats.
Nunez will become the second true freshman to start for Steve Spurrier in his 26 seasons as a collegiate head coach. Florida’s Jesse Palmer in 1997 was the first.
“That’s just where we are right now,” Spurrier said. “Lorenzo gives us, maybe, a little spark in there that we need offensively.”
Nunez, who will get his first collegiate start Saturday against UCF (0-3) at noon in Williams-Brice Stadium, met with the media Tuesday before his promotion was announced and expressed confidence in whatever his role might be.
“I feel pretty comfortable,” he said. “I have been taking more reps throwing the ball at practice against the No. 1 defense.”
Nunez saw the most extended action of his career last week during a 52-20 loss to Georgia in which he completed 4 of 5 passes for 18 yards and rushed for a team-high 76 yards on 10 carries while rotating with junior Perry Orth.
“He did OK,” Spurrier said. “He made some nice runs, as we know. He hit a few passes. He gives us a spark in there running the ball. We need to, probably, spread out a little bit, run and get him out of the pocket and throw. Let’s give Lorenzo a chance to go out there and let him play the game and see how he does.”
This time last year, Nunez was quarterbacking Harrison High School in Kennesaw, Ga., where he was a four-star prospect as a dual-threat quarterback. (Palmer was 8-for-14 passing for 92 yards and two interceptions when he started against Auburn in 1997.)
“I think we are pretty confident in him,” senior offensive lineman Mike Matulis said. “As you could see during the Georgia game, he had a lot of positives. I think he’ll go out there and do a pretty good job.”
Nunez will become the 11th quarterback to start for the Gamecocks in Spurrier’s 11 seasons.
“Perry and Michael (Scarnecchia) probably need to play some also,” Spurrier said. “I don’t know that we’re a one-quarterback team completely, but if (Nunez) plays very well and takes care of the ball, we could be a one-quarterback team. It just depends on how the game goes.
Sophomore Connor Mitch won the starting job in fall practice but suffered a separated shoulder against Kentucky on Sept. 12 and will miss several more weeks. (Mitch attended South Carolina’s Monday evening practice and watched with his arm in a sling, Spurrier said. “Health-wise, he’s doing well,” Spurrier said.) Orth, a former walk-on, started against Georgia, completing 6 of 17 passes for 66 yards.
Nunez will run a limited portion of the Gamecocks’ passing playbook until he becomes more familiar with the offense and the throws necessary at the collegiate level, Spurrier said.
“He’s got to learn where everybody is going and so forth,” Spurrier said. “But it’s time to let him play. He should play a lot this year, barring injury.”
Nunez ran for 1,193 yards and threw for 803 during his senior season in high school.
“He’s trying to improve as a passer,” Spurrier said. “We won’t know until we ask him to start throwing it around. He’s capable, but he just hasn’t done it yet.”
The Gamecocks called “seven or eight” pass plays for Nunez against Georgia, the quarterback said, and he ended up throwing the ball on five of those plays. His longest completion was a 14-yard pass across the middle to freshman wide receiver D.J. Neal.
“I thought I would have a hard time getting used to the speed, but I got in there and I just played like I usually do and it worked out fine,” he said. “I am pretty fine with the offense right now. What I know (of the offense) I think I could (execute), but that’s up to Coach Spurrier.”
South Carolina ranks 12th in the SEC in yards per game (356.3) and last in points per game (19.7).
“I don’t think we’ve been doing that bad. We’ve just been off a little bit,” Nunez said. “I just think we need to get back on track and get back to the basics.”
Gamecocks vs. Knights
Who: USC (1-2) vs. UCF (0-3)
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium