Alabama Football: Freshman SC QB Hilinski impresses Saban

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Second-ranked Alabama football (2-0) heads to Columbia to square off in its SEC opener against South Carolina (1-1). Nine years ago, an undefeated Crimson Tide fell to the hands of the Gamecocks, crushing Alabama title hopes.

Alabama football returns to the scene of the crime from nine years ago. Inheriting a slow-building winner from Lou Holtz, Steve Spurrier sought to satisfy the championship hungry Gamecocks fan base. Fresh off its first national championship in seventeen years, the Crimson Tide entered Williams Brice Stadium on a nineteen game winning streak. Stephen Garcia played the game of his life, leading the team to victory. Years later, the Gamecocks hope to regain national prominence.

High expectations for Saban protege, head coach Will Muschamp, in his fourth season began with a humbling loss in the season opener to border rival North Carolina. Four-year starting quarterback Jake Bentley also suffered a season-ending foot injury in the opening game.

The senior quarterback developed a love/hate relationship with the rabid fan base as boos would rain down with subpar, inconsistent performances, or he would deliver over 500 passing yards against eventual national champs Clemson.

Next man up, true freshman Ryan Hilinski made his first career start against Charleston Southern. The Gamecocks came away victorious, 72-10. Stoic, incisive and consistent, the six-foot-three, 230 pounder, finished with 282 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.

Hilinski completed his first twelve passes to start the game. Later, he connected on a 60-yard bomb for a touchdown. The offense set a school record with 775 total yards (493 rushing) with Hilinski under center.

A future star in the making

The last true freshman quarterback Alabama faced (Trevor Lawrence), the bright lights were not too big for him. Hopefully, the situation is different for Hilinski.

When asked about the true freshman at his Monday press conference, Saban responded with praise and admiration,

"“He played great. The guy was, I don’t know, 26 of 30 or whatever and they had a lot of yards. 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 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.”"

Nick Saban defenses have usually perplexed freshman QBs. Before Trevor Lawrence, Saban’s teams had lost to freshmen QBs only three times, against seven victories. Two of those three losses came in Saban’s first year with a new program – 1995 at Michigan State (to LSU) and 2007 at Alabama, to freshman Wesley Carroll and Mississippi State.

According to the 247 Sports Composite, Hilinski was the no. 64 player in the country for the 2019 class. He was also the number two pocket passer and twelfth best player in the state of California.

As a high school senior, Ryan finished with 2,271 yards, 29 touchdowns and ten interceptions with a 64 percent completion rate. The young quarterback had a strong showing at Elite 11 and decided to become an early enrollee at USC. In the spring game, he threw for 206 yards on 24 completions.

Next. Week 3 SEC Power Rankings. dark

Alabama football steps off the plane Friday afternoon seeking to avenge their last loss in Columbia. This game is the Crimson Tide first big test of the season.