COLUMBIA, S.C. — Hayden Hurst’s line in Saturday night’s box score vs. Tennessee doesn’t paint an accurate picture of just how well he played in the eyes of the South Carolina coaches.
Even though the sophomore caught just 1 pass for 9 yards in the 24-21 win over Tennessee, coach Will Muschamp and the Gamecocks offensive brain trust thought Hurst was one of the top performers.
“Hayden Hurst is a guy … in some protection things we put him on (Derek Barnett) to widen the edge on some rushes with some chip (blocks),” Muschamp said. “He had a lot of things that we thought he did extremely well in the game.”
South Carolina’s offensive line certainly needed help protecting freshman quarterback Jake Bentley.
“Hayden, that’s one of the reasons he was the player of the game for us, was because of the protection,” Muschamp said. “He did a lot of valuable things for our football team that may have not shown up in the stat column, but he did some really good things for us.”
That doesn’t change the fact that Muschamp still wants to find ways to get Hurst more involved in the offensive game plan, which would translate to bigger numbers in the box score.
Contrary to what some armchair play-callers might believe, offensive coordinator Kurt Roper does want to feed him. Things just haven’t worked out for Hurst, who has 2 catches for 18 yards over the last two games.
“We’ve had some things dialed up,” Muschamp said. “We had two shot plays lined up for him and they covered both of them and I thought Jake made good decisions on both of them, not to try and get the ball in.”
With his 9-yard fourth-quarter reception against Tennessee, Hurst’s season totals are up to 32 catches for 406 yards, both of which are still tops among South Carolina pass-catchers.
The former minor league baseball player is evolving as a tight end. Over the last 10 months, Muschamp said Hurst is “night and day” with his improvement as a blocker.
“There’s a lot of things, teaching-wise, you don’t realize there are a lot of intricacies at that position of angles and sealing the guy off in the run game and different things — inserting and having a feel for some of the lead plays that we do,” Muschamp said. “He is a guy that will continue to get better. He’s a great athlete, so he can do a lot of things very easily.”