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Confident QB McIlwain faces first road start

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Brandon McIlwain

South Carolina quarterback Brandon McIlwain (11) runs for a touchdown against East Carolina during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain has seven quarters of college football experience under his belt heading into the final game of September.

Being a young quarterback, McIlwain is experiencing many things for the first time as a SEC quarterback. Saturday’s test at Kentucky (7:30 p.m., SEC Network) offers another one – his first career road SEC start.

The good news for McIlwain is the Wildcats are off to a horrible start defensively and rank last in the SEC in all four major defensive categories – scoring defense (43.7 ppg), total defense (528.0 ypg), rushing defense (243.0) and passing defense (285.0). Thus, McIlwain and the Gamecocks offense should be able to move the ball and score some points.

However, road SEC games are still tricky propositions and the Gamecocks have lost two of their last three visits to Commonwealth Stadium. Moreover, Kentucky probably needs to win this game in order to save its season and stay in contention for a bowl game. A loss would drop the Wildcats to 1-3 with a Oct. 1 trip to Tuscaloosa for a matchup with No. 1 Alabama looming on the horizon.

McIlwain passed his first significant road test two weekends ago when he led the Gamecocks to a pair of second half touchdowns, a performance that convinced Will Muschamp and USC offensive coordinator Kurt Roper that he was ready to take the reins of the offense completely, which he did by going wire-to-wire in Saturday’s 20-15 victory over East Carolina in the Gamecocks’ home opener.

McIlwain completed 16-of-28 passes for 195 yards and rushed for two early touchdowns in the win.

“Brandon being named Player of the Game (by the Gamecocks coaches) tells you how we thought he played,” Muschamp said. “But there are some things we need to clean up and continue to progress in the throwing game. He threw the ball extremely well. So, I’m very pleased where he is, but he is no different from any other young player at a position. Take the reps, take the coaching and watch film and do the things you need to do to be successful.”

Like all most quarterbacks, McIlwain is learning football is played at a much higher speed at the Power 5 conference level compared to high school. But he is adjusting well and has retained his confidence.

Since McIlwain is now establishing himself as the Gamecocks’ starting quarterback, USC Coach Will Muschamp could revisit his policy of keeping true freshmen off limits from the media.

Muschamp said the decision is “day-to-day.” Right now, Gamecock players are available to the media just one day per week – Tuesday following practice prior to Muschamp’s weekly 1 p.m. press conference at Williams-Brice Stadium.

“He has a lot on his plate right now,” Muschamp said. “He needs to worry about being the quarterback at South Carolina. That’s the most important thing, and him playing well is the most important thing for his teammates. As we continue to work through it, we’ll look at it. When we feel like there are (media) opportunities we feel will benefit him and our program, we’ll do it.”

Texas A&M time

USC will host Texas A&M at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1. The game will be shown by SEC Network.

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