ATHENS, Ga. — The surroundings weren’t all that was new for Zack Bailey. So was the position.
The former Summerville High School star, who had been working at backup center for the Gamecocks, was pressed into duty at the position before 92,746 at Sanford Stadium. When South Carolina starting center Alan Knott went down with a sprained ankle, it was Bailey who got the call in the 52-20 loss to No. 7 Georgia.
“When I first went out there, it was kind of nerve-wracking,” he said. “But I quickly overcame that. Just kind of blurred out everybody and all the sounds, and did what I had to do.”
Bailey, a true freshman, played guard in high school. He had never played center in a game until Knott went down with 12:33 left in the second quarter. Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott gave him a high-five, teammates patted him on the head, and suddenly he was snapping the ball to quarterback Perry Orth in Sanford Stadium.
“There was maybe one that wasn’t perfect,” Orth said. “But he did pretty well. I thought he did really good for being thrown into the fire like that in an awesome environment.”
Head coach Steve Spurrier said Bailey and Clayton Stadnik, who started several games at center last season before losing weight after dental surgery and being converted to tight end, will vie for the position if Knott is unable to return in time for next weekend’s home game against Central Florida.
“When it comes to practice, every rep’s going to be serious,” Bailey said.
Orth, a former walk-on, made his first career start Saturday, but rotated with true freshman Lorenzo Nunez. Orth was 6-of-17 with 66 yards, an interception, and one rushing touchdown, while Nunez was USC’s leading ground gainer with 76 yards on 10 carries. Nunez also scored his first career touchdown on a 7-yard rush.
“I was really tired,” he said, “so I wasn’t really thinking about that at the moment.”
Spurrier said “we’ll do what we need to do” as far as continuing to rotate quarterbacks in the future. USC’s two touchdowns both came on quarterback rushes, with Orth scoring the other on a 4-yard run.
“I don’t really have a problem with it,” Orth said of the rotation. “Whatever helps the team. If that’s what we have to do, I’m willing to do it.”
Knott wasn’t the only starter USC lost during the game. Tailback Brandon Wilds went out late in the second quarter after bruising his shoulder on a 13-yard gain. He did not return, and finished with 24 yards on five carries.
Spurrier was unsure after the game if the injury would preclude Wilds from playing next weekend against UCF.
— Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush held a rally in Athens on Saturday, and then was on hand for the game. The former Florida governor mingled in the Bulldogs student section, and shook hands on the sideline prior to kickoff.
— The only Palmetto State native on Georgia’s roster is former Goose Creek High School running back Tramel Terry, a redshirt sophomore listed as a cornerback for the Bulldogs. Terry, the 2012 South Carolina Mr. Football and Post and Courier Player of the Year, has been used primarily on special teams.
— USC returns home for a noon game next Saturday against Central Florida, which fell to 0-3 Saturday in a 16-15 loss to Furman. The Knights are without starting quarterback Justin Holman, who injured his throwing hand last week against Stanford and is expected to miss up to a month.