South Carolina’s quarterback quandary has gotten no clearer two weeks into spring practice, especially now with two of last year’s three starters sidelined with injuries.
Junior Perry Orth, who started eight games last fall, cracked the collarbone in his left, non-throwing shoulder at a scrimmage last Saturday. He had surgery and will miss the rest of spring practice.
Lorenzo Nunez, a freshman who made two starts, has missed the past week of drills with a hyperextended knee, leaving newcomer Brandon McIlwain and sophomore Connor Mitch to take the bulk of snaps at practice.
First-year coach Will Muschamp said Orth’s injury is not a problem – Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson broke his collarbone the spring before his freshman season in 2014 yet was ready for summer ball – and should return to the Gamecocks fully ready to work by June 1.
Orth, wearing a yellow “hands-off” shirt and a black shoulder brace, and McIlwain had separated themselves from the quarterback pack this spring so the injury was disappointing, Muschamp said.
Still, Muschamp said he’s no closer to picking a starter than he was when he took the job last December.
“We don’t have a clear-cut, number one quarterback,” Muschamp said Tuesday. “We’ve got multiple guys we’re trying to rep.”
Muschamp and co-offensive coordinator Kurt Roper entered winter workouts with a clean slate about South Carolina’s passers. The spice to the battle was McIlwain, a highly regarded dual-threat quarterback who enrolled in January to go through spring ball.
Muschamp said he wants all the quarterbacks on the roster, including freshman Michael Scarnecchia and walk-on Danny Gordon, to take high-pressure snaps at practices to see how ready they’ll be to lead the Gamecocks if necessary.
“It’s the spring and it’s something you’ve got to do,” he said.
McIlwain got much of the first-team snaps and, like many players new to the college game, had up and down moments in charge. He was picked off several times going against the first-team defense, then would dazzle fans attending the workout with sharp runs through the line or laser passes to teammates.
“I think he’s made a lot of strides,” Muschamp said of McIlwain. “He’s obviously a guy with a lot of ability, an explosive guy who can do some things for us. I like the progress that he’s made.”
The Gamecocks are going to need a play-making quarterback to turn things around from last year’s 3-9 debacle.
Mitch won the job last fall during summer camp, then came out in the second game in a loss to Kentucky because of hip injury that damaged internal organs and led to bleeding.
Orth, the one-time walk on, stepped in for a blowout loss at Georgia before former coach Steve Spurrier tapped Nunez, a true freshman, to take the lead in more a run-based attack – the third QB starter in South Carolina’s first four games.
The musical quarterbacks essentially stopped after Nunez left two games later with an injury. Spurrier walked away in mid-October and interim coach Shawn Elliott call on Orth’s leadership and steadiness to stabilize an offense thrown off stride by the coaching change.
Orth completed 54.8 percent of his passes, throwing for 1,929 yards and 12 touchdowns. Muschamp said Orth has shown a strong grasp of the system so far and his missing the final two weeks of drills – the Gamecocks’ annual spring game is April 9 – should not impact the offense that much.
Muschamp said he will keep the quarterback competition going throughout the summer and into fall camp so the injured Nunez can get more a look.
“We’ve kind of whittled it four guys right now,” Muschamp said.