Nick Saban

Alabama coach Nick Saban puts his team through its first preseason practice Friday. Photo by Kent Gidley

TUSCALOOSA — Nick Saban understands the challenges that come with starting a true freshman quarterback. After all, in 2016, he handed the keys to Alabama’s offense to then-18-year-old Jalen Hurts.

It’s because of that experience that Saban’s lofty praise of South Carolina freshman Ryan Hilinski carries a little extra weight.

“I thought the freshman quarterback played flawlessly last week for the first game he’s played in,” Saban said during his opening remarks in Monday’s weekly press conference.

Hilinski, the Gamecocks true freshman quarterback who started in place of injured senior Jake Bentley on Saturday, completed 24 of 30 passes for 282 yards and a pair of touchdowns to go along with a rushing touchdown in a 72-10 rout of Charleston Southern.

“He played great,” Saban said. "He certainly didn’t look like a freshman quarterback out there. He’s a good athlete and he has a good arm. He was very accurate. He made good decisions. He got rid of the ball. He got the ball out of his hand quickly. And he executed the offense extremely well.

“So no disrespect, because we think (Jake) Bentley is a really good quarterback and certainly an experienced guy, but they didn’t miss a beat in this game in terms of the quarterback position.”

South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp announced Sunday night that Bentley, a three-year starter for the Gamecocks, will undergo season-ending surgery this week. No decision will be made about his future with the team until later in the year.

Muschamp also indicated South Carolina (1-1) could utilize fellow freshman Dakereon Joyner as a Wildcat quarterback and as a receiver in certain packages moving forward.

“There’ll be some packages obviously where (Joyner is) going to be in the game and playing a receiver position with Ryan (at quarterback), and then he’s playing quarterback and Ryan’s in the game as well,” Muschamp said Sunday night. “So, there’s some things, again, we’ve just got to continue to expand what we do and not put too much on (Joyner’s) plate, which he handles things well because he’s extremely bright.”

Saban was also complimentary of the Gamecocks’ program under Muschamp, who is in his fourth year in Columbia.

“Will Muschamp has done an outstanding job of building a very, very good program at South Carolina,” Saban said. “They had a successful season a year ago. They’re a very well-coached team in every phase of the game. Their guys play hard. They sort of reflect the personality of their coach. This is a good football team.”

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