Kirby Smart is impressed with Ryan Hilinski.
Through four games, South Carolina’s freshman quarterback has completed 88 of 144 passes for 912 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions. Hilinski’s best numbers came from a meeting with then-ranked No. 2 Alabama, where he passed for 324 yards and two touchdowns.
“Just look at the Alabama tape,” Smart said. “He went out and played against one of the elite defenses in the country and spun the ball as good as anybody.”
Hilinski wasn’t expected to be the man under center this year, but a season-ending foot injury to senior Jake Bentley in the Gamecocks’ season opener against North Carolina put the 18-year-old from Orange, California, in command.
Smart said Georgia made a “hard” effort to recruit Hilinski back in 2018. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound quarterback was a four-star prospect out of Orange Lutheran High School and was ranked the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2019, according to the 247Sports Composite.
“He can make all the throws,” Smart said. “He’s got a great release. He’s got intuition on throws. Very instinctive. He’s going to be a really good player in this league for a long time, in my opinion.”
Georgia’s defense will face a freshman quarterback for the second consecutive week, as Tennessee’s Brian Maurer earned his first career start over redshirt junior Jarrett Guarantano against the Bulldogs on Oct. 5.
Smart chalks up the trend of young starters under center to the higher chances of injury quarterbacks face, taking note of how college quarterbacks are becoming more mobile and getting hit more often.
“You’re seeing backups who happen to be true freshmen because quarterbacks don’t usually stay [for] the long haul,” Smart said. “But you’re also seeing more talented freshmen arrive.”
Maurer and the Vols’ offense challenged Georgia’s defensive backs at the beginning of the Bulldogs’ 43-14 win. Maurer passed for 205 yards in the first half, and his performance was accented by a 73-yard touchdown pass to Marquez Callaway.
But senior safety J.R. Reed is focused on not letting those plays get away from the secondary against South Carolina.
“We [have to] get the guys down on the ground,” Reed said. “We’re a great tackling team, and in that game right there, we did not display it. It’s something that we need to work on going forward.”