College Sports

From starring to struggling: Muschamp, USC players explain Hilinski’s dip at Missouri

Editor’s note: Our sincerest apologies to the Hilinski family today for the unfortunate headline in our print edition today. Hilinski’s Hope works to raise awareness about mental health issues, especially for student-athletes. Although the connection between the headline and the foundation was unintentional, there is no excuse for such poor wording and we have reached out to the family and university to express our regrets.

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Ryan Hilinski on Sept. 14 threw for 324 yards against second-ranked Alabama, a performance good enough for the South Carolina quarterback to be named SEC Freshman of the Week. Four days later, elbow soreness caused Hilinski to be limited in practice. On Sept. 21, Hilinski delivered the worst of his three career starts in a 20-point loss to Missouri.

Why the drastic change in performance? Will Muschamp and Carolina offensive players tried explaining it Saturday night after the Gamecocks fell to 1-3 on the 2019 season.

Hilinski completed 13-of-30 passes for 166 yards, a touchdown and two costly turnovers that directly led to 14 Tiger points.

Muschamp first made clear one thing: Because Hilinski was out there, he was healthy enough.

“(Hilinski) didn’t throw on Wednesday,” Muschamp said, “just had some soreness. He would not have played if he was hurt. So he was cleared by our medical staff. ... The elbow was never brought up today on the sideline, as far as that was concerned.”

Hilinski threw it a near-school record 57 times against the Crimson Tide, but the soreness wasn’t a product of any overuse from that game, Muschamp said.

As for the dip in production, Muschamp pointed to factors around Hilinski that hampered the rookie’s outing such as the Gamecocks’ lack of rushing presence (16 yards on 24 carries, good for their worst showing on the ground in 16 seasons), their poor field position (four first half possessions started inside their 10) and Missouri’s overall defensive scheme.

“They had some tight coverage,” Muschamp said. “We knew coming into the game they were going to play a lot of Cover 1, which they did. They played a lot of tight coverage and they had some tight windows to throw it into. They played more zone as the game went on; that helped us a little bit.

“But give them credit.”

The Tigers entered Saturday second in the nation in pass defense and fourth in total defense.

“Schematically, they’re very different,” Muschamp said, comparing Mizzou to Alabama. “They’re a vertical attack team. We felt we had a good plan going in. Obviously we didn’t.

“They’re much different in how they play up front as opposed to Alabama.”

Hilinski was 4-of-15 for three yards in the first half, a stat line only recently rivaled by Jake Bentley’s nine first half yards last season at Kentucky.

“He was having a tough start,” said senior receiver Bryan Edwards, who finished with six catches, 113 yards and a touchdown. “We just got to make plays for the guy when he puts the ball in our area. When we got a young quarterback, we just got to try and help him as much as possible.”

Hilinski was sacked twice. His final QB rating of 94.1 is the seventh-worst by a starting USC signal caller in the Muschamp era. (Hilinski’s QBR was 119.0 against Alabama.)

“I think Ryan did what he could,’” said Dakereon Joyner, who replaced Hilinski for the final series of the game. “Just got to clean up some things. But he’ll be all right.”

Next up for Hilinski and the Gamecocks is a home date with Kentucky (2-2, 0-2 SEC). USC is trying to avoid its first 0-3 start to SEC play since 2015.

“I think Ryan will respond fine,” Muschamp said. “He’s extremely bright. He’s extremely intelligent. He’s got a lot of confidence.

“This is part of being the quarterback at South Carolina, part of being a quarterback in the SEC. It’s not all going to be perfect. It’s tough. We can’t put him in tough situations.”

NEXT

Who: Kentucky at South Carolina

When: 7:30 pm Saturday, Sept. 28

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia

TV: SEC Network

Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.
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