COLUMBIA -- With the season opener creeping closer and closer with every new day, new practice, there becomes less and less time to determine a backup quarterback.
That position battle is entering its third week of competition now and had its first big test Monday with the team’s first scrimmage of fall camp. The coaches left without a clear-cut favorite as they continue with just 18 days before the team’s first game.
"There's not enough right now, but we have to watch the tape and make some evaluations about where we are,” head coach Will Muschamp said. “I've seen some very positive things from both guys and the mistakes being made are both from young players. That's to be expected at a certain point but at a certain point, we also have to push forward."
The Gamecocks have their starter — senior Jake Bentley, who’s on pace to break a handful of school records before his eligibility runs out — but the focus is on who will be the No. 2 behind him between redshirt freshman Dakereon Joyner and freshman Ryan Hilinski.
There’s no timetable for when the Gamecocks want to name a backup quarterback, but Muschamp knows he wants someone who knows the offense well and, arguably most importantly, limits turnovers.
Cutting down on interceptions was an emphasis heading into camp and Muschamp said he saw that from all three passers in Monday’s scrimmage.
“Today we did a nice job protecting the ball. There were some good battles on both ends. I thought we played really well defensively in the red area holding people to field goals,” he said. “Obviously offensively, 70% of the time we want to score touchdowns. We didn't do that today, but we took care of the ball. Whatever positive it is on one side, it's a negative on the other."
But there is still a lot to improve on with Muschamp saying the team needs to be a more consistent passing team and right now, 10 practices in, the running game is further along.
A big reason for some of the stalling through the air is quite literally stalling.
“At that position, we're not getting the ball out quick enough,” Muschamp said. “All three guys, we're not getting the ball out quick enough. We've got to have a better time clock, especially in one-minute situations. If you take a sack, the drive is over. It's a clock killer. (We've) got to get the ball out quicker from all three guys."
The Gamecocks’ backup battle will likely go deep into fall camp with 13 practices before the season opener and another chance to scrimmage Saturday and try to separate themselves.
The quarterbacks, both of whom were Elite 11 finalists as high school seniors, have very different games with Hilinski the pure pocket passer and Joyner a more dynamic runner who can make things happen more if the pocket breaks down.
Joyner is the only one of the two who’s seen any game time, playing sparingly in one game last season while maintaining his redshirt.
"He's got great leadership ability,” Muschamp said. “He positively affects everybody around him. He's really good with the ball in his hand. He's a winner. At the end of the day, you look at what he did at Fort Dorchester High School and the success that he had there. There's a lot of intangible qualities that he brings to the table that certainly make him who he is as a quarterback."