COLUMBIA -- Bye weeks offer a lot of benefits from a team perspective. Teams have more time to get healthy and a chance to spend time correcting schematic and physical mistakes plaguing them the first part of the season.
It also gives coaches time to take a deep breath and evaluate the play of their impact guys, which includes South Carolina first-year starting quarterback Ryan Hilinski.
“I’ve been very pleased. Obviously the Missouri game, he’d like to have some other opportunities there, but we need to be better around him,” Will Muschamp said. “He needs to be more accurate with the football, but I’ll follow that up with we need to be better around him in his first start on the road and our league is difficult. I thought he took care of the ball and did the things we asked him to do.”
Through four games, Hilinski is completing 61.1% of his passes for 912 yards and five touchdowns. He’s played three games against Power 5 opponents (all SEC teams) and is 52-for-87 (59.7%) in those games with 630 yards, three touchdowns and an average quarterback rating of 82.5.
He’s looked good at times — 324 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama — and bad — 13 completions for 166 yards against Missouri battling a sore elbow.
The freshman has done a lot of good things in terms of managing games and finding playmakers in space, but there are things to improve on, as with every player.
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According to Pro Football Focus grades, Hilinski has a 57.3 overall grade and a 55.4 passing grade -- his highest against an SEC team came vs. Alabama (59.4 overall, 60.2 passing).
He’s been really good in the intermediate passing game — he has an 84.1 passer rating in the middle of the field between 10 and 20 yards — but needs to be more accurate down the field. In throws of 20-plus yards, he’s 3-for-16 for 118 yards, two touchdowns and a pick.
Hilinski also probably needs to be better facing pressure. PFF stats have him with a 32.4 overall grade and a 36.9 passer rating when pressured compared to a 68.5 overall grade and a 96.3 passer rating with a clean pocket. Part of that obviously falls back on the offensive line to pick up pressure better.
“The biggest conversation he, Bryan McClendon and Dan Werner have on Thursday is: What do we feel comfortable with?” Muschamp said. “As far as openers and some of the other things in talking in terms of openers and what he feels comfortable with. It isn’t always what we think, it’s about what he thinks.”
But for some of his struggles that can be chalked up to a freshman getting his first taste of college football, Hilinski’s done a lot of good things.
He’s shown the ability to make plays and has the arm talent to make some NFL-level throws.
With his current stats, he’s on pace to complete 242 passes on 396 attempts for 2,508 yards and 13 touchdowns. He’s also on pace for eight interceptions.
If he continues on that trajectory, it would be the fifth-most completions by a Gamecock quarterback, fourth-most attempts and 10th-most yards.
“He throws on the run extremely well, so we love to get him out of the pocket and change the launch point for the defense a little bit,” Muschamp said. “I thought he threw the ball on the move extremely well. The deep ball to Bryan, I thought, was a really good throw and their guy made a really good play on the player or Bryan scores with it. There are things he did extremely well. He’ll continue to improve and get better. That’s what we need to have happen.”