Coming out of South Carolina’s abysmal performance against Mississippi State Saturday night, one thing is apparent: Brandon McIlwain should be the starting quarterback and only quarterback played by head coach Will Muschamp next game.
This is no slight against Perry Orth. That the discussion is even being had for Orth, a previous walk-on, to be the starting quarterback against ECU is a testament to his hard work. He never signed up to be a starting quarterback in the SEC, and in all realities, he probably didn’t even plan on being a backup. Yet last season, when he was called upon to play, he did. He never did anything flashy or game-altering, but he did what he had to do and gave his team a chance to win in almost every game.
Yet this year the scenario is different. No longer is Orth our only option. No longer should the expectation of our quarterback be to just keep us in the game. This year, and for the next three years at least, the expectation of our quarterback should be to win us the game. And Brandon McIlwain can do that.
McIlwain's inexperience has shown in the first few games, specifically through his fumble against Vanderbilt. However, his playmaking ability and spark of energy he provides to the offense has outweighed the negatives.
Frankly, the only bright spots offensively from the entire Mississippi State game took place with McIlwain under center. It was he who led the Gamecocks to their only two scores of the night, both of which were drives of 12-plus plays for at least 80 yards.
In the first half with Orth under center, the Gamecocks were only able to muster 90 total yards and zero points. So coming out of the half, McIlwain was handed the keys to the offense in hopes that he could provide life the previously anemic offense. And that he did.
With his speed, McIlwain was better able to run the read option and quarterback draws that had been mostly unsuccessful in the first half, as he was able to gain 17 yards on 11 rushes, compared to Orth’s negative 17 yards.
But the true result of his speed did not come in the form of personal rushing yards, but instead in passing yards. His ability to avoid the immediate rush and to escape a collapsing pocket allowed him to extend plays. This then put more pressure on the secondary, allowed his receivers more time to get open and often forced the nearest defenders off their man to not allow McIlwain to scramble for large gains.
South Carolina fans will walk away from Saturday night dejected. But one player, and more particularly one play, should give them hope for what is to come both this year and in the coming years. That play, a fourth and one late in Saturday’s game, saw McIlwain escape the pocket, draw a Mississippi State defender, and right before he was driven to the dirt, loft a throw over two other defenders into the outstretched arms of his receiver K.C. Crosby to give his team their final score of the night.
With that play, McIlwain proved that he provides South Carolina with the ability to win games. He gives the offense the versatility it needs to have extended drives against the dominant defenses of the SEC. He showed that the future of this program is ready to lead this team now.