Alabama knew this summer that the Southeastern Conference portion of its football schedule would begin with Saturday's trip to South Carolina.
What the Crimson Tide have learned since is that they won't be facing Gamecocks senior quarterback Jake Bentley.
Bentley suffered a foot injury on the final play of the 24-20 opening loss to North Carolina and was replaced by freshman Ryan Hilinski, who started last Saturday's 72-10 rout of Charleston Southern. Hilinski completed 24 of 30 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns against the Buccaneers, and he added a 4-yard scoring run.
"He played great," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday in his weekly news conference. "The guy was 26-of-30 or whatever he was, and they had a lot of yards. He certainly didn't look like a freshman quarterback out there. He's a good athlete and has a good arm. He's very accurate, and he made good decisions.
"This is no disrespect, because we think Bentley is a really good quarterback and an experienced guy, but they didn't miss a beat in terms of the quarterback position."
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp announced Sunday that Bentley's injury will require surgery and that he's out for the season.
Hilinski is among the most touted quarterback signees in South Carolina history, with the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder from Orange, California, ranking as the No. 64 overall recruit nationally according to 247Sports.com in the 2019 class. He also was rated as the nation's No. 2 pro-style quarterback behind Oklahoma's Spencer Rattler.
"We're going to play as if he's any other quarterback," Alabama redshirt junior outside linebacker Terrell Lewis said. "I wouldn't say that we're just going to pin our ears back, because I don't think they're just going to throw the ball and throw the ball. We want to stop their run first and then try to make them pass the ball.
"We are eager to play a freshman quarterback, because he hasn't seen us."
South Carolina racked up a school-record 775 yards against Charleston Southern and tallied 11 touchdowns. The Gamecocks had a pair of 100-yard rushers — Kevin Harris (147) and Mon Denson (118) — and a 100-yard receiver, Bryan Edwards (112).
Muschamp insists the game plan will not be simplified for Hilinski.
"The guy can handle what we're doing," Muschamp said after Saturday's win. "He's extremely bright."
Alabama's home game Sept. 21 against Southern Mississippi was announced Monday as a noon EDT kickoff, and that starting time elicited a statement from Tide athletic director Greg Byrne.
"We are disappointed that our game against Southern Miss has been selected as a daytime kickoff at home," Byrne said. "We realize we've played more nonconference day games at home in September than any other SEC team since 2014. There have been a number of conversations with our conference office, and they also recognize the challenges these kick times present for our student-athletes and fans."
Out of the last 10 September nonconference games in Bryant-Denny Stadium, that will be the ninth to be held in the daytime.
Changing his tune
When asked Saturday about the crowd leaving early during the 62-10 win over New Mexico State inside a steamy Bryant-Denny, Saban said, "Everybody wants to be No. 1, but are they willing to do everything to be No. 1? That's another question."
On Monday, Saban had tempered that thought.
"I know it was a difficult day for our fans because of the circumstances surrounding the weather," he said. "I would like to thank the fans for supporting the team. The players really appreciate it."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.