Josh Kendall

Will USC start freshman QB? Should they?

Quarterbacks Perry Orth (10) and Brandon McIlwain (11) warm up during USC football practice at the South Carolina practice facility Tuesday.
Quarterbacks Perry Orth (10) and Brandon McIlwain (11) warm up during USC football practice at the South Carolina practice facility Tuesday. tglantz@thestate.com

“Big week of practice this week.”

That’s Perry Orth’s assessment of the current state of South Carolina’s quarterbacks competition. The Gamecocks continue to rotate Orth, the senior who started eight games last year, and freshman Brandon McIlwain with the first team offense on a daily basis as they enter practice No. 18 Wednesday afternoon.

The team will take off Thursday as the players begin classes for the fall semester and then return to the practice field Friday to prepare for the biggest date of the season thus far – an 8 p.m. scrimmage Saturday in Williams-Brice Stadium. Head coach Will Muschamp said earlier in the preseason that Saturday’s scrimmage would be when the team began to firm up the rotations that will be used when the Gamecocks start the season Sept. 1 against Vanderbilt.

Nowhere on the field has that rotation been more scrutinized than at quarterback. Orth continues to look like the steady hand and is the most ready, in my opinion, to help South Carolina win games at the moment. However, the longer this competition continues, the more likely it becomes the coaching staff will look to McIlwain, who comes with the high risk of being a first-year collegian and the high reward of being the most athletic player at the position.

McIlwain is an intriguing player and there’s every reason to believe he can be an All-SEC player in the future, but fans rooting for that future to be now need to understand the reality of starting a true freshman quarterback in the SEC in a passing offense. It’s usually ugly. South Carolina tight ends coach Pat Washington, who was an assistant coach at Missouri last year, has a fresh memory of that.

The Tigers turned to true freshman Drew Lock early in the season last year. Lock was an Elite 11 quarterback who was considered one of the top 10 prep players in the country at his position. He completed 49 percent of his passes and threw eight interceptions against four touchdowns.

“The kid we played last year at Missouri is a very talented kid,” Washington said. “Very, very talented kid, but I don’t know if he was quite ready for what we had to do. The best thing that can happen for a young quarterback in my opinion is to redshirt them, let them learn how to play the game. That’s just my opinion, but a guy could start here as a freshman.”

Just don’t think it’s going to be easy. Or fun sometimes.

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