COLUMBIA, S.C. – The experiment of Hayden Hurst at punt returner did not go as planned for South Carolina.
Coach Will Muschamp didn’t even need to hear a full question asking if it was working out, as he said, “No,” before the question was finished.
The sophomore tight end was the latest option explored at a position that has been a problem through the season’s first six games. He proved not to be the answer, as he did not field any of the five punts kicked to him – two going out of bounds, while three others were downed inside the 10-yard line.
“I’m up for anybody,” Muschamp said.
Muschamp opted for cornerback Chris Lammons late in South Carolina’s 28-14 loss to Georgia. Lammons, Deebo Samuel and Rashad Fenton all had opportunities prior to Saturday. Each of the three also had muffed a punt, leading to Hurst being the selection.
Hurst didn’t get an opportunity early. But a big momentum swing came when in the third quarter on a Georgia punt. South Carolina pulled within 14-7 after a 9-yard touchdown run from Samuel and the defense stopped Georgia’s following drive to force a punt.
Georgia’s Marshall Long didn’t square up the kick and it was set to land around the 25-yard line, so Hurst backed off. But the ball took a Georgia bounce all the way to the USC 3-yard line.
“That was the first time I’ve ever punt returned in my life,” he said. “It’s difficult to get a read on those balls. The ball was wobbling, looked like it was going to fall short then it took a heck of a bounce. That’s a tough one.”
The search is back on now as South Carolina (2-4) heads into its bye week.
“I figured at a Division 1 program, we would have somebody that could catch a punt,” Muschamp said.