COLUMBIA, S.C. – Brandon McIlwain’s second start wasn’t as good as his first, but his South Carolina teammates don’t believe his confidence took a hit.
“He’s a quarterback and he’s a baseball player,” linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said. “You know in baseball, you strike out once, you can’t go up to the next at bat thinking about a strikeout. I definitely feel like he is going to move on and definitely going to improve.”
The freshman quarterback will make his third straight start Saturday against No. 9 Texas A&M (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network). As has been the case through his first two starts, there are some flashes of brilliance and his talent shining through. Then there are freshman moments and inconsistencies that go with starting McIlwai, which were seen in a 17-10 loss at Kentucky.
Through those ups and downs – both for McIlwain and the offense – the Gamecocks say his upbeat personality helps the situation.
“Obviously, last year, things weren’t good and we are going through it now,” offensive lineman D.J. Park said. “This year it’s a different thing. You’ve gotta stay upbeat or it leads to a 3-9 season.”
Having a short memory is important, Park said, especially for a young player. That is a quality Park said the freshman quarterback possess, as well as the ability to not be too hard on himself.
“It’s a quality good players have,” he said.
McIlwain was 15 for 30 passing for 177 yards with 11 rushing yards on 13 attempts against Kentucky. He has thrown for 533 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions with a 51.6 percent completion rate through four games. He also has rushed for 91 yards and two touchdowns on 40 attempts.
Coach Will Muschamp said his teammates have been supportive of McIlwain, including senior quarterback Perry Orth, who has not played since McIlwain started against East Carolina on Sept. 17. His teammates have continued to rally around him heading into a stiff test against Texas A&M.
“We are all talking to him,” Allen-Williams said. “It wasn’t so long ago that I was a freshman making mistakes. As a freshman playing in the SEC, you need somebody that has been there and been in the same position to talk to you and let you know everything is going to be alright. I’m definitely one of those guys. I talk to Brandon all the time and tell him it’s going to be okay. We are having a little bit of growing pains, but there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.”
There will be more ups and downs for McIlwain and the South Carolina offense as it heads into it’s a tough month with games against three ranked teams (Texas A&M, Georgia and Tennessee). But the freshman continues to play hard and compete, which his teammates praise as they go through growing pains.
“He doesn’t give up. He’s just willing to always do whatever it is to make the play,” running back A.J. Turner said. “I don’t think that Brandon’s head is down. I think everybody’s head is up. We all know what we have to do. We just have to work hard and everything will take care of itself.”