Home South Carolina Sapakoff: Gamecocks quarterback Jason Brown must push Luke Doty, at least |...

Sapakoff: Gamecocks quarterback Jason Brown must push Luke Doty, at least | South Carolina


COLUMBIA — SEC speed, that celebrated difference between good football players and great ones and between touchdown passes and interceptions, is introducing itself to Jason Brown.

“It’s a lot faster,” said Brown, the South Carolina redshirt senior quarterback who transferred from St. Francis (Pa.) University in January. “I really have to know where I’m going with the football and I can’t make any mistakes.”

It took just the first few days of spring practice. The talent is better than what Brown saw while setting records in the FCS Northeast Conference in 2019.

Strategy adjustments, head games and fake blitzes are a part of early workouts.

“It’s fast and it’s challenging but I love it,” Brown said. “It’s fun.”

If it’s still fun after the April 24 spring game, South Carolina is better off going into Shane Beamer’s first season as head coach. The key to improved quarterback play — a Gamecock must for 2021 — is Brown, one of the two or three most important players on the roster.

The 6-3, 235-pound native of Fredericksburg, Va., threw for 3,084 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2019 at St. Francis, which opted out of the 2020 season for COVID-19 reasons. Brown must step up with veteran savvy and dual-threat skills to push incumbent sophomore starter Luke Doty.

At least.

It’s a weird football world in which three former South Carolina starting quarterbacks still have college eligibility: Jake Bentley (South Alabama via Utah), Ryan Hilinski (Northwestern) and Collin Hill (seeking pro opportunities but could have played another year).

Bentley — and you can look this up — is the only quarterback ever to beat Michigan in a bowl game, throw for over 500 yards at Clemson and beat Colorado in the snow.

Hilinski started in an upset victory at Georgia.

Hill beat Auburn.

And now Doty is the most experienced SEC quarterback on the South Carolina roster, thanks to two starts late in a 2020 season that cost Will Muschamp his job after a 2-8 finish.

The quarterback room also includes spirited 6-3, 210-pound freshman Colten Gauthier of Bethlehem, Pa. Asked this week about his strengths, he mentioned arm strength and “ceiling.”

As for the Gamecocks’ offense, Gauthier channeled the NFL brashness of Al Davis, the late Raiders’ owner: “We’re going to get what we want when we want it.”

But a quarterback a few months removed from high school is pretty much the last thing you want on the field within the SEC gauntlet.

And while Doty showed flashes of moxie and speed last season, he remains an unsure thing. The Myrtle Beach High School grad must make rapid progress for South Carolina to win more than four games in 2021.

That’s where Brown can make a difference, either by winning the job or making Doty better.

‘Someone they wanted’

Bolting St. Francis was an easy call in January, Brown said, after the school abruptly abandoned plans for a spring football season.

South Carolina tight ends coach Erik Kimrey, a former Gamecocks quarterback, reached out almost immediately.

“I knew I was someone they wanted,” Brown said, “and I knew this was going to be a special place and you can’t beat coming in and playing in the best conference in college football.”

It helps that Brown (or any Gamecock quarterback) has E.J. Jenkins on the roster. The 6-7, 242-pound redshirt senior is a veteran wide receiver also getting a look at tight end.

The pair played together at St. Francis, where Jenkins caught 13 touchdown passes in 2019.

And in high school.

Middle school, too.

E.J. Jenkins factor 

“When you go to a new place and there’s a bunch of new faces, it’s nice to have a familiar face in the room with you as well that you know you can trust,” Brown said.

Jenkins, Brown said, is fast and physical and at his best when battling for jump balls.

Jenkins has grown up facing double-team coverage. During a 38-31 overtime loss to Central Connecticut in 2019, Jenkins said, it was triple coverage — starting with a defensive tackle playing press coverage in the red zone.

“I’ve seen it all,” he said.

More college football weirdness: Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who had contact with Brown and Jenkins coming out of high school, reached out to other coaching staffs on their behalf once they left St. Francis.

The Northeast Conference/SEC adjustment process is in full swing.

“Just practice and repetition,” Brown said. “There’s no bad team in the SEC.”

Jake Bentley, Ryan Hilinski and Collin Hill are gone.

The combined experience of this South Carolina quarterback room adds up to two major college starts.

How well Brown handles SEC speed and/or pushes Doty looms as a major factor in how many games the Gamecocks win in 2021.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff

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