COLUMBIA — This implausible Jason Brown ascent is one of the strangest things in South Carolina’s madcap quarterback history.
Which for veteran Gamecockologists is saying something akin to, “Some of the neighbors sure have crazy holiday lights this year.”
It’s not only that South Carolina, going into a Nov. 27 rivalry game with No. 23 Clemson at Williams-Brice Stadium, has won four straight home games with three different starting quarterbacks.
It’s that Brown started the last two, SEC upsets of Florida and Auburn. And with No. 15 taking snaps, South Carolina (6-5) has bowl eligibility few observers outside the Gamecocks’ football building saw coming.
There’s a clear message here from Brown, a guy who was third-string on the depth chart just a few weeks ago.
It’s for Gamecocks fans, Clemson people, Las Vegas oddsmakers. Anyone willing to listen.
“Just don’t count us out,” Brown said after throwing three touchdown passes in the 21-17 victory over Auburn on Nov. 20. “Because we’re going to come out and play every single play. Every single game we’re going to come out and give our very best no matter who we’re matched up against.
“It could be our next opponent or it could be the Green Bay Packers. We’re going to come out and play with everything we’ve got.”
If Gamecock Nation could answer with a collective text, it might go something like …
“Where have you been all my life? Or, all my season?”
Better late than never, and better late in games, Brown quickly went from forgotten man to transfer portal prize.
Not an easy hurdle for a 6-3, 229-pound redshirt senior who came to the Gamecocks in January from St. Francis (Pa.) in the FCS Northeast Conference.
“The guy’s always prepared as a starter since Day 1,” redshirt junior wide receiver Dakereon Joyner said. “He’s always been prepared. He was waiting for his moment. I’m just excited to see him grow and continue to help us win.”
Brown sure looks a lot better than a third-stringer in a quarterback room that veteran analyst Phil Steele rated as 11th-best in the SEC entering the season.
Brown is 2-1 as a starter this season, Zeb Noland 3-2 and Luke Doty 1-2. It’s not all on the quarterback; a steady defense helps, and improved blocking has made the running game go.
But the next best quarterback win after Brown vs. Florida and Auburn?
Noland at East Carolina.
First-year coach Shane Beamer and his staff have a logical, chronological explanation as to why Brown was late to the lineup.
He arrived in Columbia a bit overweight.
He had a little trouble picking up offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield’s playbook.
“Just the confidence to make calls,” Beamer said on Nov. 23 at his weekly press conference, “to know exactly what we’re doing.”
August to Auburn
Brown was “not where he needed to be” in August, Beamer said.
That was reflected in a play from South Carolina’s Sept. 4 opener, a 46-0 victory over FCS-member Eastern Illinois. Brown, 22, saw action off the bench and completed 4-of-5 passes but failed to identify an all-out blitz and one-on-one coverage on 6-7 receiver E.J. Jenkins.
Instead of delivering the ball immediately to his former St. Francis and Chancellor High School (Va.) teammate, Brown took a sack.
“He throws the ball to E.J., it’s probably a touchdown,” Beamer said. “Just little things like that.”
Beamer and Satterfield had more confidence in Doty, an athletic sophomore who got two starts late in the Gamecocks’ 2-8 season in 2020.
When Doty got hurt in August, they turned to Noland, who went from a graduate assistant coach who had played at Iowa State and North Dakota State to an SEC starting quarterback.
With both Doty and Noland hurt, it was Brown’s turn.
“But it was never that we didn’t have confidence in Jason,” Beamer said. “We always did.”
Venables on Brown
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables sees Brown “getting more comfortable” with each start. Venables scouted Brown and Jenkins in high school and when they decided to transfer from St. Francis, he helped by texting college coaches about their availability.
“The more he plays, the more comfortable he’s getting and becoming,” Venables said. “The (South Carolina) staff is learning ways to take advantage of his strengths and protect him from whatever weaknesses he might have.”
Third-string was the official depth-chart designation, but consider all the current or former South Carolina quarterbacks with college eligibility this week.
Jake Bentley, who transferred to Utah and then to South Alabama.
Ryan Hilinski, now at Northwestern.
Joyner, in the quarterback mix before moving to wide receiver.
Collin Hill, the 2020 starter who could have returned in 2021 but decided to seek pro football opportunities.
That’s six players more likely at one point or another to start a 2021 rivalry game against Clemson than Jason Brown.
Better late with a “don’t count us out” message than never.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.
Gamecocks’ QB carousel
Won-loss records for South Carolina quarterbacks this season:
Jason Brown, 2-1 (wins over Florida and Auburn, loss at Missouri)
Zeb Noland, 3-2 (wins over Eastern Illinois, at East Carolina, Vanderbilt, losses at Georgia, Texas A&M)
Luke Doty, 1-2 (win over Troy, losses to Kentucky, at Tennessee)
Note: Zeb Noland credited here with Vanderbilt win as he entered when South Carolina was trailing