COLUMBIA, S.C. — Experience or talent. Talent or experience.
That’s just one of the questions facing South Carolina this season as the Gamecocks will spend the fall figuring out their quarterback situation, which mainly consists of the battle between senior Perry Orth and freshman Brandon McIlwain.
On Wednesday, co-offensive coordinator Kurt Roper addressed whether he was inclined to lean toward a player with more experience or a player with more talent or hope one has both.
“I think that’s a question if coaches really knew the answer to, we would all be a lot smarter,” Roper said. “I think experience is a great indicator. Obviously, talent is a great thing to have on your side.
“We’ve just gotta figure out who is going to be the most productive.”
So far, the duo has been splitting first-team reps. On Tuesday, it was the senior Orth and McIlwain took the run with the ones on Wednesday. That battle and split figures to be ongoing throughout fall camp until USC travels to Vanderbilt for Week 1.
But the work on it started in the spring and carried over into the summer, when Roper said he met four times a week with the quarterbacks to work through improving their understanding of the offense — the first step, Roper said, in getting a quarterback ready to play.
“I think what you wanna do in the summer is improve their understanding of everything that you’re doing system-wise,” he said. “I think, No. 1, what a quarterback has to have is mastery of your own system. If you have mastery of your own system, then we can move into the defense. There was a combination of all of that. You spend a lot of time with your system.”
McIlwain has drawn nice reviews so far this camp, including one from Orth after Wednesday reps, while Roper also had nice things to say about another freshman quarterback in Jake Bentley.
“Brandon, obviously, has shown that these aren’t his first practices,” he said. “He’s coming back and he’s smarter. His understanding of what we are trying to do offensively is pretty good. We are in pretty good shape. Then Jake, what you’ve seen in two days — because it’s really the first two days we can work on anything — you can see he is a talented guy. He is an intelligent guy. He picks things up, but it’s still a brand new situation to him.”
But Orth has the experience over both players, having started eight games last season and giving him an advantage in familiarity with all that goes with being the guy under center.
“Well, experience is obviously a huge advantage,” said Roper, adding Orth has looked “powerful” in his return from a broken collarbone in the spring. “You’ve been in the stadium before. You’ve gotten ready for a game before and gone through all the butterflies and the anxiety to go along with it.
“Then, obviously, dealing with the complex defenses that you’re going to see in the SEC. There are some really good defensive coordinators running around this league and that causes a challenge. Being in the battles before certainly helps.”
Roper said he can’t say whether McIlwain is going to play even if he isn’t the starter come September. And the Gamecocks aren’t thinking about a potential situation with McIlwain redshirting — they’re focused on establishing the position first and foremost.
“What we are trying to do is practice guys, mix the reps with ones and twos and see who is ready,” he said. “Once we make that decision, then we can have the backup plan. We don’t have plan one yet.”