COLUMBIA - South Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski is facing another first in in the start of his college career - forgetting about a bad performance and focusing on what's ahead this week.
The Gamecocks' freshman, named the Southeastern Conference rookie of the week after throwing for 324 yards in a loss to No. 2 Alabama on Sept. 14, followed that with his worst performance of the season in the 34-14 loss to Missouri on Saturday.
Hilinski will have to be sharper for South Carolina (1-3, 0-2 SEC) to knock off Kentucky (2-2, 0-2), a similarly desperate team looking to break through in league play.
Hilinski was ineffective and off-target much of the Missouri game. The offense managed just 30 total yards before halftime and he later threw an interception in the end zone that was returned 100 yards for a Tigers score.
Center Donnell Stanley, in his sixth year with the Gamecocks, talked with Hilinski this week about focusing on what's ahead.
"I told him everybody has an off game, but you've just got to move on. You can't let the last game beat you twice," Stanley said. "He's going to be good."
Hilinski missed a day of practice last week leading up to Missouri with what was diagnosed as elbow tendinitis in his throwing arm. Coach Will Muschamp said he had an MRI and the test came back clean and the 6-foot-3, 230-pound newcomer insisted he was not injured.
"Ryan feels very strong that his elbow is fine. We've asked him multiple times about that," Muschamp said. "Maybe he was a little off and didn't play well. We didn't create a lot of separation at the top of routes, didn't protect as well as we needed to protect. It's a combination of a lot of things."
Hilinski has looked good at practice, receiver Bryan Edwards said.
"I'm pretty confident in him," said Edwards, tied for fifth in the SEC with 21 catches. "He's a tough kid. He's resilient and I know he's going to bounce back."
Hilinski took over the starting job in game two after fourth-year starter Jake Bentley was lost for the season with a left foot fracture. Hilinski has not talked with media because Muschamp does not allow freshman to speak publicly.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Hilinski has impressed him with his poise as a young player.
"He just looks good when he's comfortable out there and throwing in rhythm," Stoops said. "There have been times when they've looked really good."
Nonetheless, it's been an awful month for the Gamecocks on and off the field. They squandered a 20-9 second-half lead in a loss to North Carolina in opening week - the same game where Bentley hurt his foot.
The Gamecocks have lost five straight to Kentucky and a sixth defeat would send them into a bye week with their worst start in 20 years since the 1999 team went 0-11.
The remaining seven games after Kentucky include contests with No. 1 Clemson , No. 3 Georgia and No. 23 Texas A&M, all matchups South Carolina will be expected to lose.
Plus, sophomore safety Jamyest Williams who started the first three games entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal, telling Muschamp he wanted to go elsewhere.
Muschamp said no other players have come to him looking to transfer.
Hilinski and Muschamp spoke late Saturday night about getting the quarterback's mind right. Muschamp said he made all the throws at practice without any discomfort and is looking forward to Saturday.
"He's a mentally tough guy, a mentally tough young man," Muschamp said.
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