Before South Carolina boarded its team bus in Columbia on Friday, Shane Beamer pulled sophomore quarterback Luke Doty aside and checked on his status.
If the situation arose, would he be ready to play? Was he ready physically? Mentally?
Sidelined for a month with a foot injury, Doty had only returned to full 11-on-11 practice Thursday after spending most of the week in individual drills — still working off rust, still getting his legs back underneath him. Yet Doty was adamant with his head coach that he could play against Georgia in Athens on Saturday.
Even still, neither Beamer nor Doty could’ve anticipated that Doty would play almost the entire game.
Doty didn’t see exactly what happened, but the moment 24-year-old assistant-turned-quarterback Zeb Noland left the Sanford Stadium field grasping his throwing hand, Doty knew he would be thrust into action. Noland played just one drive and attempted only two passes before a gash in his hand — and subsequent numbness — forced him out of the game.
In a 40-13 loss to the No. 2 Bulldogs, Doty had little choice but to take the offensive reins. At times, especially early, the results were ugly, with the Gamecocks going up against one of the elite defensive lines in the college game. But Doty also showed flashes of the athleticism that initially put him at the top of the USC quarterback pecking order.
“We talked about it all week that whenever my number’s called, just be ready,” Doty said after the loss. “It’s just a next-man-up mentality. And I’m praying for Zeb — we’re all praying for Zeb. And it’s just my job to go out there and execute to the best of my ability.
“And obviously, we left some plays out on the field. I left some plays out on the field. But I was ready when my number was called. And that’s what it’s all about.”
Though he didn’t receive much help from his offensive line, Doty managed to complete 13 of 26 passes for 153 yards, a touchdown and one interception. He was sacked twice, including a strip sack and forced fumble in the second half.
Early on, Doty said he found himself rushing, especially on his deep throws, a few of which sailed over the head of his intended receiver.
“It’s good that Luke was back out there running around,” receiver Josh Vann said. “You can tell that he’s trying to find his rhythm again, just being out for a good minute.”
There were signs that Doty found that rhythm late in the game. Early in the fourth quarter, he connected with Vann on a 36-yard strike down the left sideline for the first Gamecocks touchdown. On the next drive, he launched a deep ball to Jalen Brooks, who made a sensational one-handed catch reminiscent of Odell Beckham Jr.
Most importantly, Doty came away from the contest without aggravating his foot injury, something the Gamecocks could ill afford with Noland’s status now questionable. Doty said he felt some soreness in his foot — which was expected — but otherwise didn’t think he was “too banged up.”
“He’s good,” Beamer said. “He took some shots out there tonight, and they got a great pass rush and physical on defense. I’m sure he’ll be sore tomorrow.
“But he didn’t say anything to me during the game. And in the locker room, I gave him a hug and I told him I appreciated how hard he played.”