COLUMBIA, S.C. – Don’t name a starting quarterback until game time and play two quarterbacks. That was South Carolina’s system for the first two weeks of the season.
Saturday, freshman Brandon McIlwain trotted out as the starting quarterback and it was his show from start to finish.
At the start, he was bringing South Carolina fans to their feet. By the end, he was imploring them to cheer again as the seconds counted down on the Gamecocks’ 20-15 victory over East Carolina.
“I think he just has got a lot of poise about him,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. “He’s got a lot of the ‘it’ factor you look for at that position. He doesn’t get fazed by a lot.”
It will be McIlwain’s show again next week. Muschamp said he feels McIlwain is his quarterback moving forward.
McIlwain put life into the offense in the second half of a 27-14 loss at Mississippi State last Saturday. Muschamp and co-offensive coordinator Kurt Roper made the call for McIlwain last Sunday.
“This is not a slight on Perry Orth at all,” Muschamp said. “We need to have some legs from the quarterback position at this time for where we are with our offense. Felt like that would be the best for us at this time and as we continue to evolve and guys continue to grow up in our system.”
On Saturday, Orth was on the sideline in a baseball cap as McIlwain’s legs gave the Gamecocks the first-half start they had lacked in the previous two weeks. The freshman ran for 9-yard and 10-yard touchdowns on the first two drives of the game for USC’s first points before halftime this season.
He completed 16 of 28 passes for 195 yards to go with 9 rushes for 34 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“Brandon is a very confident and calm guy,” senior offensive lineman Mason Zandi said. “You look in his eyes and you can tell he’s not antsy. He’s not nervous. He trusts his skill set. He trusts his front line. He likes to go out there and execute. Heck of a ballplayer.”
That poise was evident in the fourth quarter. The Gamecocks had not scored since the first three drives of the game and ECU pulled within 17-9. McIlwain came out looking more like a veteran with many more starts than a freshman making his first.
He connected with tight end K.C. Crosby for a 19-yard gain before an ECU busted coverage put Hayden Hurst open downfield for a 36-yard gain. Elliott Fry booted a 39-yard field goal to extend the USC lead to 20-9.
“Really proud of him and how he responded,” Muschamp said. “That’s what good teams do. They respond and they gain momentum back in the game.”
McIlwain was responsible for plenty of momentum against East Carolina. And he will be given the opportunity to do it again moving forward knowing he is the starter.
“Brandon did an outstanding job, he really did,” Zandi said. “Coming in as a true freshman, he had poise, he had leadership. I really appreciate what he did.”