On heels of Zeb Noland injury, South Carolina’s QB depth is pushing its limits

·4 min read

South Carolina offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield quipped in fall camp that he’d start a water bottle under center if he had to — assuming it gave the Gamecocks their best chance at victory.

“I tell everybody, ‘If that water bottle is the best quarterback, that water bottle is going to play,’ ” he said in August, pointing toward the bottle perched on the table in front of him.

Jokes aside, USC might have to start a water bottle at quarterback come the final four weeks of the season with the luck signal-callers are having around Columbia in recent weeks.

South Carolina announced Monday night that quarterback Zeb Noland will undergo a minor surgical procedure on Tuesday morning to address a meniscus tear in his right knee. The school press release noted the Gamecocks expect him to be ready for the Florida game on Nov. 6.

Whether Noland can or can’t go against the Gators remains to be seen. Where it does leave South Carolina, though, is crippled at the most crucial position on the field in a room that was already hurting for depth before starter Luke Doty went down with a season-ending foot injury and prior to Noland tearing his meniscus.

So how did South Carolina get here? Let’s take a brief detour, shall we?

The Gamecocks lost Colorado State transfer Collin Hill after his lone season at USC. His departure was followed by Ryan Hilinski’s transfer to Northwestern shortly after Shane Beamer landed the head coaching job in Columbia.

With Hill gone and Hillinski on his way out, the Gamecocks signed Jason Brown from the transfer portal in late January to help bolster a room that, at that point, only housed Doty, mid-year freshman enrollee Colten Gauthier and walk-on Connor Jordan.

Seven months and one Doty foot injury later, and Noland was brought back into action after arriving at South Carolina as a graduate assistant in late May. Two weeks after being elevated to the active roster, Noland beat out Gauthier and Brown for the starting gig in place of Doty.

Now eight-plus weeks after the initial firestorm, Doty is done for the year, Noland is undergoing surgery and the only healthy quarterbacks at present are Brown — who threw his first passes of the year Saturday at Texas A&M, aside from a one-off play against Georgia — and Gauthier and Jordan.

“The moment wasn’t too big for him,” Beamer said of Brown’s performance against the Aggies on Saturday. “He sat in the pocket and made some throws. Certainly some throws that he would like to have back and that maybe were a little off ... but for his first game action, I thought he came in and did a great job.”

It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault that South Carolina finds itself playing quarterback roulette week to week. Rather, it’s dumb luck coinciding with the deathly shallow quarterback room Beamer, Satterfield and this staff inherited.

Satterfield talked with a smile during USC’s in-house media day when asked about what went into shaping the options at quarterback. The room, at that juncture, was his to mold given the lack of bodies.

“It was a little scary at times, but that’s part of it,” Satterfield said. “It’s exciting as well, because you get to start from (scratch). You get to start fresh.”

Heading into a bye week and needing two wins in its final four games to reach bowl eligibility, South Carolina’s aspirations of extending its season aren’t completely kaput as it’ll face a quartet of opponents at varying levels of turmoil.

Florida’s recent struggles have folks in Gainesville increasingly perturbed with head coach Dan Mullen. Missouri is a complete disaster defensively — perhaps even more of a mess than South Carolina is on the offensive side. Clemson, too, has had its share of struggles after being handled last week at Pittsburgh. Auburn is the most consistent of the bunch, but it’s also a team South Carolina beat last fall.

“Every week is just more exciting because it’s the next one,” Doty said two weeks ago. “That’s something we always talk about, not only in the quarterback room, but in the offensive team room as well. It’s just putting whatever happened in the last week behind us and focusing on what’s next.”

The benchmarks needed to reach the postseason are still attainable. But with a banged-up Noland and an offense that’s one stagnant performance shy of inciting an all-out revolt among the fan base, Beamer and Satterfield have deep problems to address during a week away from competition.

If the Gamecocks are going to survive another possible shuffle under center in a year filled with them, they’ll need a drink far stiffer than water.

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