COLUMBIA — The last time South Carolina played Central Florida, it was a matchup between squads that would each go on to record double-digit victory totals. Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium brings a very different meeting — one between struggling teams with their starting quarterbacks on the mend.
On both sides, times have changed since Blake Bortles and Jadeveon Clowney faced off in a 2013 clash of future top-three NFL draft picks. Winless UCF comes to Columbia for a noon kickoff with starting quarterback Justin Holman still recovering from a hand injury, while the Gamecocks are off to their worst start since 2008.
“We’ve got to stay together,” UCF coach George O’Leary said after last Saturday’s 16-15 loss to Furman, an FCS program. “That was my message to the kids. There’s no pointing fingers. Everybody has to basically go out, and you win together and you lose together, and they understand that.”
Holman injured his hand on the opening series of the Knights’ Sept. 12 loss at Stanford and sat out the remainder of the game.
Following the loss to Furman, O’Leary said the 6-4 junior was scheduled to have stitches removed Tuesday and added, “hopefully there is a chance” he’d be ready for the Gamecocks.
But at his weekly media briefing Monday, O’Leary said freshman Bo Schneider would start at quarterback. Holman passed for 2,953 yards and 23 touchdowns last season, and threw for 249 yards and two scores in a season-opening loss to Florida International. With Holman out, Schneider, Tyler Harris and Nick Patti combined to pass for 98 yards and three interceptions against the Paladins.
“I doubt he’d be ready,” O’Leary told reporters in Orlando. “It’s all in that soft skin tissue, and it takes a while for it to come back. It all depends on if he can grip the ball or not, and I doubt it. The doctors said two to four weeks, and they’re usually accurate.”
Meanwhile, it appears USC will continue to use a combination of junior Perry Orth and true freshman Lorenzo Nunez, who rotated in last weekend’s 52-20 loss at No. 7 Georgia. Connor Mitch, the Gamecocks’ starting quarterback to open the season, is out at least a month with a separated shoulder suffered against Kentucky on Sept. 12.
Mitch also returned to the hospital over the weekend for a transfusion needed to treat a deep hip bruise that became infected after the loss to the Wildcats, sources confirmed. The redshirt sophomore originally suffered the bruise in the Sept. 3 season opener against North Carolina, then exacerbated it against Kentucky, and was initially hospitalized for three days following the game.
USC (1-2) will also be without center Alan Knott, out with a high ankle sprain, while the status of starting tailback Brandon Wilds is uncertain due to bruised ribs.
UCF (0-3) lost leading receiver Jordan Akins with a knee ligament tear suffered against Furman, another blow for a team ranked last among all Football Bowl Subdivision squads in total offense at 248.3 yards per game.
It’s all a far cry from the teams’ last meeting in 2013, when a Gamecocks squad ranked No. 12 nationally ground out a 28-25 victory over a UCF team that would win the Fiesta Bowl. Bortles and the Knights finished 12-1 that season, Clowney and the Gamecocks 11-2, and the teams were ranked 10th and fourth, respectively, in the final AP Top 25 poll.
Now, they’re both searching for answers.
“We’ve got to play a lot better than we’ve been playing or we’re always going to be in trouble,” said Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier. “UCF is a good team that hasn’t played all that well, but they’re certainly capable.”
South Carolina’s Oct. 3 game at Missouri will kick off at noon and be televised by the SEC Network, the conference announced Monday.
USC leads the series with the Tigers 3-2, with the first two matchups coming in bowl games. The Gamecocks on their last trip to Faurot Field rallied from a 17-point deficit to win, 27-24, in double overtime. Last season at Williams-Brice Stadium, Missouri came back from two scores down in the fourth quarter to win, 21-20.
Missouri has weathered close games against smaller programs in each of the past two weeks, winning, 27-20, at Arkansas State on Sept. 12 and beating Connecticut, 9-6, on Saturday.