COLUMBIA -- When Will Muschamp sat down with Ryan Hilinski this past weekend to tell him the true freshman is going to be the team’s starter for the foreseeable future, the message was simple.
"He said, 'Let's go,’" Muschamp said.
Hilinski gets his chance to show what he can do in just the second game of his college career, taking over for Jake Bentley, who sustained a potentially season-ending foot fracture on the final play of Saturday’s loss to North Carolina.
He takes the reins of an offense that struggled to put up yards consistently -- just 101 after halftime — and was the least explosive it’s been since the start of last season.
But the question is what will this offense look like with a first-year player making his first career start?
Unless you count the spring game, Hilinski has yet to take a meaningful snap at South Carolina. The talent is there — you don’t become an Elite 11 quarterback and four-star prospect without some skill — but the Gamecocks will likely have to tailor what they call offensively to fit what Hilinski can do.
He’s a freshman so he doesn’t have the same experience with game speed and reading a defense a junior or senior might have, but Muschamp’s confident in where Hilinski is right now in terms of offensive understanding.
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"What does he feel comfortable with is more important not necessarily what we're comfortable with,” Muschamp said. “Ryan is very intelligent, and he's adapted himself well and we've got to make sure we play well around him. That's the most important thing. We challenged our defense and the rest of the players offensively. We need to play well around the guy."
After a prolific career at Orange Lutheran, where he threw for 2,771 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior, Hilinski enrolled in January to go through spring practice at South Carolina and get a jump start on learning the offense and working with quarterbacks coach Dan Werner.
He was commended in camp for how quickly he transformed his body and caught onto what offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon wanted to do schematically.
Muschamp and the rest of the coaching staff will figure out just how much he’s learned Saturday when he makes that first start, along with what leadership he can bring from the quarterback position.
"I think Ryan does a really good job. He's not a very vocal guy, but he has a certain air about him as far as that position is concerned,” Muschamp said. “You've got to have that to be at that position in my opinion. Ryan will be fine. Our players have a lot of confidence in Ryan and we do as a staff, as well. It's most important that we make sure what is Ryan comfortable with in this first ballgame and certainly Dakereon's (Joyner) role will be important, as well."
Hilinski came in as the heir apparent to Bentley, who is in his senior season at South Carolina, and beat out Dakereon Joyner for the backup quarterback spot about two weeks into preseason practice.
Muschamp did say, though, while Hilinski will get the start Saturday (noon, SEC Network) against Charleston Southern, expect to see Joyner log some quarterback snaps as well.
"Ryan will be the starter and Dakereon (Joyner) will play. Dakereon's role really hasn't changed since over a week and a half ago. He's still going to play some quarterback snaps. We've got some things that he'll do there,” Muschamp said. “He'll also continue to play wide out. Ryan will be the starter, and I've got all the confidence in the world he'll do an outstanding job. He's prepared himself for this opportunity. Man down, man up, that's our mentality. That's the way we're moving forward."
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