With senior quarterback Jake Bentley lost for the season, South Carolina’s offense has done an about-face the last few weeks, going from a predominantly passing team to one that now relies primarily on the run.
The running game was strong again Saturday against Florida but the passing game struggled, a key factor in South Carolina’s 38-27 loss to the No. 9 Gators.
“We have to find a way to throw the football better and be more consistent throwing the football,” head coach Will Muschamp said. “They are loading the box and you have to be able to take some shots down the field, and we did not hit those shots.”
Freshman Ryan Hilinski, making his sixth straight start after the loss of Bentley, completed just 17 of 35 passes for 170 yards. His only touchdown pass was a 4-yarder to OrTre Smith with 1:53 remaining in the game. Hilinski was sacked three times and under duress most of the game.
“It’s not just on Ryan, it’s not all his fault. We had dropped balls today that should have been caught. We had some breakdowns in protection,” Muschamp said. “We have to do a better job of protecting and keeping the quarterback upright. I don’t think it’s all on Ryan.”
“We don’t put all the blame on him. We all need to look in the mirror and see what we could do better,” said Bryan Edwards, who had seven catches for 78 yards, including a 41-yarder to set up South Carolina’s first touchdown.
Hilinski did not throw an interception but his fourth-quarter fumble allowed Florida to put the game away. Trailing 24-20, Hilinski was sacked and fumbled. Florida recovered at the South Carolina 29 and scored three players to take a 31-20 lead.
“We didn’t protect well on that play. We got pressured too quick,” Muschamp said.
Though South Carolina rushed for 217 yards against Florida, it passed for fewer than 200 yards for the third straight game.
“We just have to throw and catch the ball better,” Muschamp said. “We have to be more consistent in the passing game. We just have not been consistent enough throwing the football to get people off of us. We can’t rely on the running game all the time.”