COLUMBIA — The separated shoulder Connor Mitch suffered against Kentucky wasn’t the only injury to South Carolina’s starting quarterback on Saturday night.
Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier said Sunday that Mitch was in the hospital battling an infection in his hip, which he bruised in the opener against North Carolina, and then exacerbated in the 26-22 loss to the Wildcats at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mitch will remain hospitalized for “a couple of days,” Spurrier said, and then miss four to six weeks due to the shoulder separation.
Mitch, a redshirt sophomore, missed parts of the second and fourth quarters Sept. 3 against North Carolina being treated for a hip pointer suffered when he was slammed to the ground carrying the ball. He returned to finish that game, and although he sat out two practices last week, played against Kentucky until suffering the shoulder injury when he was hit on a second-quarter option pitch.
“He got treatment all week and felt like he was ready to go,” Spurrier said. “I think he probably just got hit again on that deep bruise, and it is an ugly bruise. That probably aggravated it also.”
With Mitch out for the foreseeable future, junior Perry Orth takes over as USC’s starting quarterback beginning Saturday at No. 7 Georgia. The former walk-on, who was placed on scholarship prior to this season, completed 13 of 20 attempts Saturday for 179 yards and his first career touchdown, but an interception at the Kentucky 23 with 4:32 left ended the Gamecocks’ comeback attempt.
“I think Perry really threw some nice balls (Saturday) night,” a hoarse Spurrier said Sunday. “Obviously, his one bad one was the interception there at the end on first down. But we’ve got confidence in Perry. We were one play away from coming back and beating those guys, but we didn’t do it.”
Mitch was 4 for 7 for 43 yards and one rushing touchdown before leaving the game. He was injured trying to convert a third-and-4 at the Kentucky 17 with under five minutes remaining in the half. His option pitch right was mishandled by tailback David Williams, and the play lost six yards. Elliott Fry then pushed a 42-yard field goal attempt wide right, his only miss among four kicks in the game.
Saturday night, Spurrier called the option play “ill-advised.” Sunday, he added the play had worked for USC in the past, but “we didn’t block it correctly. One of our wide receivers actually tried to block the guy we were trying to option off of. And when we pitched it, we didn’t catch it. David might have been a little behind it, but that’s a play we’ve run and had some success with it over the years.”
USC (1-1, 0-1 SEC) penetrated the Kentucky 11-yard line three times in the second half, but settled for Fry field goals in each case. Tailback Brandon Wilds, who rushed for 106 yards on 16 carries, complained after the game that he didn’t get the ball enough. USC threw three straight times from the Kentucky 11, then rushed once and passed twice from the Wildcats’ 11, and then rushed Wilds twice from the 10 before throwing incomplete on third down.
“Of course, when you run the ball and you don’t make many yards, you should have thrown it, and when you throw incomplete, you should have rushed,” Spurrier said. “But I don’t have too many problems with Brandon. Most running backs want the ball. Offensive linemen, a lot of them like to run block. We messed up a few assignments in our run blocking that hurt us. We’ve just got to get back coaching and get ready for the next game.”
Asked about his backup quarterback with Orth now in the starter’s role, Spurrier mentioned both true freshman Lorenzo Nunez and redshirt freshman Michael Scarnecchia, the latter of whom is the only USC signal-caller who hasn’t played thus far this season. After losing their starting quarterback and SEC opener in one night, the Gamecocks are challenged on several fronts entering perhaps their toughest road game of the season.
“We’ll see if we can piece it all together,” Spurrier said. “But we’re not talented enough to play poorly and win.”