COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — It's been a challenging week for South Carolina and Charleston Southern.
The Gamecocks have had to deal with the loss of starting quarterback Jake Bentley, out for at least six weeks — and possibly the season — with a mid-foot fracture. The Buccaneers of the Football Championship Subdivision have been displaced since Monday when the campus closed due the approach of Hurricane Dorian.
Charleston Southern (0-1) has lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, since Monday night, bussing to Columbia each day to practice, hold meetings and each lunch and dinner as they prepare to play South Carolina (0-1) on Saturday.
First-year Charleston Southern coach Autry Denson said his players have stepped up through the difficult circumstances. "We've got a little bit of a circus going on right now, but it's our circus," he said.
Denson said after he talked with administrators last weekend about the possibilities with the storm moving up the coast. The plan was put into place Sunday night with the players, coaches, their families and pets part of the traveling party.
Denson said practicing and watching film at the opponents' facility, no matter how lavish is "weird."
"You feel like everybody's watching you," said Denson, the former Notre Dame tailback great.
South Carolina has prepared this week to play without Bentley, who has missed only game since taking over the starting job midway through his freshman year in 2016.
Bentley is expected to need six-to-eight weeks to recover. If surgery is required — something coach Will Muschamp said won't been known until later — it could mean Bentley misses the season.
Freshman Ryan Hilinski , who arrived on campus in January and won the backup job in fall camp, will get his first collegiate start against the Buccaneers.
Hilinski has "prepared himself for this opportunity," Muschamp said. "Man down, man up — that's our mentality. That's the way we're moving forward."
Some other things to watch when South Carolina plays Charleston Southern:
Freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski is the younger brother of Tyler Hilinski, the Washington State quarterback who killed himself in January 2018 . The family has starting a foundation, Hilinski's Hope, designed to bring awareness to and destigmatize mental illness. The Hilinski family has relocated to Columbia to be near their son, Ryan, during his time with the Gamecocks.
A week ago, Muschamp said they would find other ways to take advantage of backup quarterback Dakereon Joyner's athletic talent after Hilinski won the backup job. Joyner played receiver for several snaps. But with Bentley out, Joyner is going back to second string. Should something happen to Hilinski and Joyner, the Gamecocks will turn to Jay Ulrich, another former passer who was converted to receiver.
Autry Denson is Notre Dame's all-time leading rusher, gaining 4,318 yards and 43 touchdowns during his time in South Bend. Denson, 42, got into coaching a decade ago and spent the previous four seasons as Notre Dame's running back coach, helping the Fighting Irish make the College Football Playoff last fall. Charleston Southern is his first heading coaching job.
South Carolina got off to a troubling start last week and not just because of Bentley's injury. The Gamecocks coughed up a 20-9 lead in second half, surrendering two touchdowns drives of more than 90 yards in a 24-20 loss to North Carolina. The loss touched off a torrent of anger and disappointment among South Carolina fans, who know their team must face the country's top three teams in Clemson, Alabama and Georg ia this season. "It is about what we need to do to win," Muschamp said. "Let's try to rally to win games and that is what we are going to do as a staff," Muschamp said.
South Carolina offensive lineman Donnell Stanley said the players discussed mountains and valleys after their loss to the Tar Heels and plan to rely on each other to get on the winning track. "We're in a valley right now," he said. "You find out who your true friends are."