COLUMBIA -- For a college football fan base, seeing a quarterback make his first start is akin to a child waking up on Christmas morning and finding that much yearned for toy under the tree.
Such was the scene at Williams-Brice Stadium on …
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Such was the scene at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday as highly touted true freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski took command of the University of South Carolina's offense against Big South Conference opponent Charleston Southern on what would prove to be a record-setting day as the Gamecocks trounced the Bucs, 72-10.
Gamecock Nation's love affair with its new toy was instantaneous as chants of "Let's go, Ryan!" permeated the stadium on the Gamecocks' opening drive, which ended with a 3-yard Rico Dowdle touchdown run.
The Orange, California, gunslinger, thrust into starting duties after senior starter Jake Bentley went down with a foot injury on the final play of last Saturday's 24-20 upset loss to North Carolina in Charlotte, did his part to justify the love. He completed his first 12 passes for 103 yards. Hilinski spread the ball around early, hooking up with eight different receivers on his first eight completions and nine in all, and added a 4-yard touchdown run for the Gamecocks' second of three opening-quarter touchdowns.
"I thought Ryan Hilinski played a great game as he completed his first 12 passes," said USC head coach Will Muschamp. "He was very accurate with the football, made quick decisions and the whole entire team around him played well. The protection was excellent today and I think Ryan played extremely well for his first start."
Muschamp said Hilinski's confidence helped him to thrive in a situation where others may have been overcome by the moment.
"Ryan is a very confident young man, very confident in his abilities," Muschamp said. "He's very smart and a lot of times that breeds confidence. ... He handled the moment extremely well and will continue to progress and do the things he feels comfortable with going forward, and because he's so bright and intelligent he'll be able to handle a lot."
When Hilinski gave way for redshirt freshman Dakereon Joyner for a late first-quarter series, the Fort Dorchester product took the baton and literally ran with it, breaking off a 41-yard run down the far sidelines on the first play to set up a first-and-goal at the 6. Two plays later, Joyner took it in from there for a 21-3 Carolina lead on the next to last play of the opening quarter.
"I was extremely happy for him," Joyner said of Hilinski. "Once I heard he was going to start I was very excited because I knew what he could do and the rest of the world, at that time, didn't know what he was capable of."
The string of Hilinski completions ended at 12 as his first pass of the second quarter, a deep shot to Bryan Edwards, fell incomplete inside the 10. Still, Hilinski kept the offense moving smoothly on an 8-play, 61-yard drive that culminated with Hilinski's first touchdown pass as a Gamecock, a 10-yard strike to Edwards. A 15-yard Edwards run on the preceding play helped to set up the score.
Hilinski closed the half completing 22 of 27 passes for 259 yards and two scores after connecting with Edwards on a 60-yard scoring play as the Gamecocks carried a 44-3 lead and 448-85 total offense edge into the break.
Edwards was the main beneficiary of Hilinski's first-half success, hauling in five receptions for 112 yards and the two scores a week after an inexplicable one reception for seven yards effort against North Carolina.
"Ryan's always been real calm, real cool," Edwards said. "He's always been outspoken. He has never been afraid, so I knew he wasn't going to be rattled. Any time that you are a young quarterback, you get thrown in the fire, it's obviously good for your confidence to have a game like we did today, and I think that will help him going into next week."
Hilinski ended his day with a final line of 24 completions on 30 attempts for 282 yards and a 174.3 quarterback rating.
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